By Talia Levin ‘20
While the “blue wave” may not have been everything it was expected to be, it did result in 40 new house seats for Democrats, giving them a majority. This enables the party to elect a Speaker of the House to serve as the House’s presiding officer, the administrative head of the institution, and essentially the leader of the majority party. Nancy Pelosi, a representative from California, served as Speaker from 2007 to 2011 when the Democrats last had control of the House. She was the first and only woman to hold that role. She has been serving as the House Minority Leader since then.
Pelosi is extremely controversial. She is disliked by a few progressive Democrats, some centrist Democrats, and most Republicans. Some extremely liberal Democrats dislike her because they view her as part of “the establishment,” a critical label for the previous generation of representatives who are seen as holding too much power and representing antiquated ideals. To some, Pelosi represents the past of the Democratic party because she is 78 years old and has been involved with politics since the 1980s. Despite this, she is relatively progressive and is often liked by liberal Democrats. The blue wave swept in many moderate Democrats in right-leaning districts, leading these politicians to oppose Pelosi for the sake of their moderate constituencies, for whom she had become a symbol of ideological extremism. Such candidates may get credit for opposing her and wish to distance themselves for their own benefit. Many Republicans also use their opposition of Pelosi to garner support from their base. As a Democratic leader, she is often use to symbolize everything that has frustrated their constituents; some Republican politicians utilize Pelosi’s prominence to create distaste in voters disillusioned with the Democratic party. This includes in speeches and particularly in ads, which aim to rally supporters against the Democratic Party through vilifying Pelosi. Pelosi is sometimes described by journalists as acting like she has a sense of obligation while also having a sense of entitlement, causing her to give back but still see herself as superior.
Some public critique of Pelosi may be rooted in sexism. As a woman in a high office, her behavior is heavily scrutinized. An example of this is the way the New York Times addressed the Democratic nomination of Pelosi as speaker. The writing left out many of her positions and legislative accomplishments, whereas their coverage of Paul Ryan’s nomination thoroughly explained his qualifications. This disparity is perhaps due to the way we describe accomplished women with positions of power who unapologetically speak their minds. Whether or not one supports Pelosi’s politics, it’s important to keep in mind how some observations can be rooted in antiquated expectations of women rather than the actual content of their work.
Comparisons are often drawn between Pelosi and other party leaders, like Barack Obama and Chuck Schumer, who are known for being extremely enthusiastic in their public appearances and encouraging a crowd. Pelosi is known for her incredible fundraising skills and ability to unite factions of the Democratic Party. Behind the scenes she is excellent at doing her job: creating effective legislation. However, she is not known for being a great public speaker or party spokesperson. In an extremely media-driven age, some argue that it may be more important to have an energetic speaker who can refute the current administration publically in a way that elicits support for the Democratic Party and its positions.
Pelosi might not represent what many Democrats, particularly younger or centrist representatives and constituents, are looking for. Although some describe her as a relic of the past, it is likely she will serve as the next Speaker of the House, representing the people and being the third in line to the presidency. Pelosi might not be the future that everyone wants, but she is probably the future we will have.