Soon, with luck, Rep. Nancy Pelosi's gender will cease to be a news item. But while we are still celebrating the fact of a female speaker of the House, it seems like a good time for the feminist left, as well as the paranoid right, to ask what kind of leader she'll actually be for America. In the New York Times today, Judith Warner hits several nails on their heads all at once.
Having worked to establish herself as a non-threatening chocolate lover and toiler "on behalf of America's children," Warner writes, Pelosi must now put her gavel where her mouth is. "American families," she says, "are cracking at the seams." The self-described mother and grandmother must get serious about the mending as she's promised.
We know Pelosi can be seen edging away from the left now and then. But she has endorsed raising the minimum wage, cutting interest rates on student loans and making some college tuition tax deductible. As Warner points out, though, these aren't nearly enough. The American family needs quality after-school programs, national standards for childcare, voucher programs and tax subsidies to help pay for that care, universal, voluntary public preschool, paid family leave and incentives for businesses to make part-time and flex-time work financially viable.
The assaults on the American family have been legion over the last two decades, and Warner runs down the list: Working moms are forced out of jobs due to workplace inflexibility, putting their children in all-night childcare, and couples "increasingly enduring split-shift work schedules -- putting their health and marriages at risk -- to avoid the costs and anxieties of day care."
As she points out, these conditions don't describe the reality of Pelosi's upper-middle-class sphere. Indeed, the speaker's reputation as a woman -- her code for both family-friendly and human -- hangs on her ability to reach beyond her own privileged orbit. California Green Party Senate candidate Todd Chretien, interviewed in today's Socialist Worker, puts it more bluntly: "She represents San Francisco, but not the working class, Latino and Asian immigrant communities that make up its majority. Instead, she represents the yuppies who flooded the city during the 1990s tech boom."
(Three-time Green candidate for California governorship Peter Camejo, in the same interview, runs through an imperfect record: Pelosi "voted for every Pentagon budget Bush has requested since 2001" and "opposes granting legalization to undocumented workers." Camejo detects a lurking class prejudice in Pelosi's recent reference to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez as "a common thug.")
Warner, for her part, employs a more family-values-friendly approach, arguing simply that Pelosi's "glorious life" be made "possible for everyone else."
"This isn't a radical leftist agenda," Warner writes, presumably with the hand that's not holding her nose. And of course it's not. It's the radical right agenda that has dominated American politics for years. Whether Pelosi is the mother and grandmother to remind the country of this remains to be seen.