No Bush bashing for me today. I am going to learn from my leader - soon-to-be-Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi. It is time to look forward, not backward.
Much has been written lately about the tough lady leader who has pushed the Democrats into unity over the past year. But not enough has been written about the heart of the person who will bear a huge responsibility for restoring the optimism of a divided nation.
I've known Nancy Pelosi for almost 25 years, since I worked for then Mayor Dianne Feinstein of San Francisco. She was a dear friend of Dianne's and an even closer friend of former Reps. Phil and Sala Burton who she followed into Congress. Sala took Phil's seat after he died. Phil was a thunderous, brilliant lion who, though I learned so much from him, scared me. Sala was a brave, intuitive woman who treated me like a beloved granddaughter. And though I know she treated many the same way, I worshipped her. Nancy did too. No one was a better friend than Nancy to the Burton family when Phil and then Sala were sick. And when Sala was dying, she anointed Nancy to be her successor. I was caught between my loyalty to the growing cadre of AIDS activists who wanted openly gay supervisor Harry Britt to win the seat and my loyalty to the Burton machine. Nancy was very kind and never pressured me. And when she won, she showed grace and friendship instead of resentment.
She worked hard for the people of San Francisco. She was as aggressive as any member of Congress to represent the broad array of interests in her district. But I will never forget her doggedness in those early days of the AIDS crisis when few people were listening, much less using their precious chits with the Appropriations Committee to begin funding critical research and care for people with AIDS. Since then I have worked with her on issues as diverse as housing, economic development and artist's rights. She consistently brings a personal touch and a legislator's skill to the table. Those who see her simply as an unwavering liberal have never clashed with her. She has progressive views for sure but she is practical and hard nosed when a broader coalition of views is needed to win.
I think those who hope or expect Speaker Pelosi to falter under the pressure, or fail to show the strength required of a new speaker when the majority changes hands, are going to be sorely disappointed.
Looking at the way she has campaigned for the past few months on behalf of House Democrats gives the country a glimpse of this formidable leader who will soon be the most powerful elected woman in US history.
She doesn't waste her time complaining about how things are. She encourages people to believe that it can be different. And I dare say I am starting to feel the optimism she exudes. Not for the election - I've been optimistic about the election for a long time. Rather I am hopeful a balance in the country is about to be righted. Other perspectives and progressive values will finally see the light of day again.
For those who haven't heard what Pelosi has been saying about her fist 100 hours in office, here goes:
Day One: Put new rules in place to "break the link between lobbyists and legislation." I've had my doubts about the merits of spending time on this issue, but given the past year with Jack Abramoff, Tom Delay and the K Street project (a corrupt project developed to enrich republican lobbyists and increase republican campaign contributions) I am convinced that it must be addressed.
Day Two: "Enact all the recommendations made by the commission that investigated the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001." Doesn't this seem so obvious?
Time remaining until 100 hours: "Raise the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour; cut the interest rate on student loans in half; allow the government to negotiate directly with the pharmaceutical companies for lower drug prices for Medicare patients; broaden the types of stem cell research allowed with federal funds, etc." These are issues that affect people's lives rather than issues that give red meat to a right wing base. She committed to "Pay as you go, meaning no increasing the deficit, whether the issue is middle class tax relief, health care or some other priority." I am confident that we will finally be hearing about our lives being discussed on the floor of the House by someone who actually cares about them.
Throughout her time in the House, Nancy Pelosi has been able to connect with the human needs of Members of Congress and mesh them with the political needs of the Democratic caucus. She jokes about the skills learned herding her family of five kids and an independent minded husband. What she doesn't say is how those kids (they aren't kids anymore) revere their mother - there is no more meaningful personal testament. So when the Republican attempts at caricaturizing Pelosi as either a dragon lady or a foolish liberal fail, Americans will be left with a woman who will be more than ready to bear the weight of our expectations on her small strong shoulders.