Editorial: Nancy Pelosi has been a trailblazer. The U.S. is better for her leadership. Her election in 2006 is a victory for freedom and decency, not just the Democratic Party.
By Jonathan Alter
As Nancy Pelosi became the first woman to become speaker of the House of Representatives, she did not have the most obvious career trajectory. She had never before held elected offices, she had never before been elected to Congress and she had never before been Speaker of the House. Her biography was as far from the typical path to political power as you could imagine: she was a single mother who grew up in one of the poorest states in America; she began her business as a single mother in Chicago in the 1950s; she grew up religious, deeply involved with the local church and a fierce champion of women’s rights; when she was elected mayor of San Francisco in 1975, it was the first election conducted entirely by mail; as a young congresswoman she became the most prominent advocate of women’s issues in the House; she was not, as she is now, the first member of her party to reach the position of speaker; she was the youngest woman ever elected to Congress and the first to serve in the House in a generation.
She was also a very different woman from the one we tend to remember. At age forty, when the first votes were cast for her at a Democratic primary election in San Francisco, she was a tall, attractive and confident African American woman. She was not a religious woman, but rather an atheist, and she was a fiercely progressive activist in the movement for civil rights and women’s rights. She is the most influential progressive member of Congress today. She is the only woman in the Democratic caucus who was not born into it.
Why is she so powerful today? Why is she more powerful than any other member of Congress? Why is she more politically savvy than any of our current presidents? It is largely because she has a vision of the country that is both larger and more aspirational than anyone else. The Democratic Party, which has long had a hard time winning elections and getting people to the polls, has turned