< meta name="DC.Date.Valid.End" content="20050825"> Amendment Nine: Nancy Pelosi at the Table

Friday, November 10, 2006

Nancy Pelosi at the Table

Nancy Pelosi's father was once a congressman and then mayor of Baltimore. Her mother's engagement in politics was along the lines of what people would now call an unsalaried community activist. Among the central memories she recounts are the many people, mostly poor, who encountered her family during her father's mayoral tenure. These people perceived that the family not only cared about them but--as public servants--were in a position to help improve the community in all the countless ways that constitute quality, and dignity, of life. As her mother put it, politics is public service.

Much later in her life, as the first women in a high leadership position (in the minority) in the House of Representatives, she attended an inaugural briefing with the President, the Vice President, and congressional leaders from both parties from both chambers. Still later, in a major speech at Georgetown University, she reflected on the fact that she was perhaps the first and only women ever present at this customary meeting where the major leaders from two branches of government seek clarity and common vision. She went on to describe a brief fantasy in which earlier women leaders in American history--such as Susan B. Anthony--were actually present at her side at that meeting. In a moment, they disappeared from her mental image, but with their words to her still lingering: "We're grateful that we finally have a seat at the table."

Been there and seen that same movie with other actors, and can report that it is one of the deepest but least known secrets in American politics--that people, all people, want more than anything else to come to the table, be included, contribute their gifts and talents, and continue building and rebuilding community. The nation and the neighborhood are one.

Nancy Pelosi knows that, from her upbringing and from her own political experience. That's how I know her tenure as Speaker will be unexpectedly positive. Far from polarizing the party, she will make it all the more inclusive and communitarian. (Of course, experience may show that it takes control of both branches in order to translate the communitarian vision into actual accomplishment--but that will be a problem for the President and his party, not for the Speaker and hers.)

If you think this is too much of a feel good fantasy, or if you think "communitarian" means the same thing as "communist," then just let it be an empirical question whose answer only time will give.