In your face, Nancy Pelosi

Conservatives had a chance to attack the Speaker of the House on substantive grounds. Instead, they made sexist jabs about her use of Botox.

Published May 18, 2009 6:42PM (EDT)

Are you a Republican who enjoyed the sight, last week, of Democrat and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi getting entangled in the debate about when she knew what she knew about torture techniques, a debate that until now has swirled mostly about Republicans, the CIA, and members of the Bush administration? Could you not wait to sock it to Pelosi, a woman whose politics and power have bedeviled you and your party for years?

Well, you were not alone. According to Media Matters, several conservative commentators were so eager to unload on Pelosi that they were tripping over themselves to get there. But mysteriously, in an instance where there are actually fair questions about whether and when she was briefed on interrogation techniques as early as 2003, as well as whether she's lying about the briefings, they couldn't resist framing her handling of the situation in the most boring, ageist, appearance-based, sexist twaddle available to the pundit class.

Take conserva-libertarian radio host Neal Boortz, who on May 15 commented on his show about how much fun it is "to watch that hag out there twisting in the wind."

Rush Limbaugh told his listeners on May 11, "All right, all right. It wasn't a lie. It's a fashion statement. She wears Armani clothes -- fashionable. Botox shots -- fashionable. She's against waterboarding -- fashionable. Of course, after 9-11, she was for water-boarding. That was fashion then." He later asserted that Pelosi had been shaking during her May 14 press conference, commenting that "that could be Botox withdrawal."

CNN contributor Alex Castellanos -- the man who once responded to Jeffrey Toobin's on-air claim that Hillary Clinton had faced sexism by arguing that it was fair to call Hillary Clinton a bitch because "some women...are named that and it's accurate" -- weighed in on Sunday, wittily observing that "if Speaker Pelosi were still capable of human facial expression, we'd see she'd be embarrassed, because, right now, she is in a very Nixon-like position."

And on the same day, Doug Giles wrote at that either Pelosi is lying about her knowledge of waterboarding, "or one of the side effects of a high dollar Botox habit includes severe short-term memory loss."

Oh, you guys are hilarious! But seriously, you couldn't have saved it for the Elks Lodge? Maybe this level of commentary would have been perfect over neon margaritas with your buddies. But in a moment where you have the opportunity to make substantive comment, you still took the Botox shots?

Pelosi herself was criticized last year for how very slow she was to acknowledge that her fellow history-maker Hillary Clinton faced sexism in her run for the presidency. But it was just the sort of beer-keg discourse with which Pelosi was doused this weekend that plagued Clinton through her entire candidacy. Pelosi's experience makes one aspect of what's wrong with this kind of conversation especially vivid: It's not simply that it's dismissive, sexist, silly and wrong. It's that it has not one single thing to do with the issues or the politician in question.

By Rebecca Traister

Rebecca Traister writes for Salon. She is the author of "Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women" (Free Press). Follow @rtraister on Twitter.

MORE FROM Rebecca Traister

Related Topics ------------------------------------------