The Magazine

Nancy Pelosi's Power Recipe

Complain your way to the top.

Aug 11, 2008, Vol. 13, No. 45 • By SAMANTHA SAULT
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Although 73 percent of Americans favor offshore drilling, Speaker Nancy Pelosi won't allow the House of Representatives to vote on the Republican bill to lift the drilling ban. In a recent CNN interview, Pelosi said she has "no plans" to schedule a vote on it because she opposes drilling in "protected areas." She is contradicting the pledge she made in 2007 at her swearing-in as speaker: "I accept this gavel in the spirit of partnership, not partisanship, and I look forward to working with you, [Minority Leader John] Boehner, and the Republicans in Congress for the good of the American people." What's her excuse for her recent stand? The Politico reported last week that she said, "When you win an election, you win the majority, and what is the power of the speaker? To set the agenda, the power of recognition, and I am not giving the gavel away to anyone."

While this important legislation stalls in the House, the speaker is traveling the country to promote her new memoir, Know Your Power: A Message to America's Daughters (Doubleday, $23.95). Last Monday she appeared on Today, The View, and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. She's visiting bookstores nationwide. At this point the book seems to be tanking.

Know Your Power is short--both in length and substance. In just over 170 pages with large print and wide margins, Pelosi races through her journey "from homemaker to House Speaker." She chronicles her childhood in Baltimore as the daughter of Democratic congressman and mayor Thomas D'Alesandro Jr., her entry into California politics distributing fliers for Democratic candidates while pushing a stroller, and the political rise that led her all the way to election as the first female speaker of the House.

She tells America's daughters that they can achieve anything if they "know their power." On the very last page of text she tells women we can discover this "power" in "our roots and our families," "our faith, our accomplishments, and our values." She even gives some good advice to modern girls.

"It always made me sad when I heard women reply to the question 'What do you do?' by saying 'I'm just a housewife,'" she writes. "My message to women is to place a higher value on the experience of being a mother and homemaker." Her own experience certainly deserves respect: She didn't run for Congress until her youngest child was a senior in high school, and she still managed to smash what she calls the "marble ceiling."

But her positive message is diminished by the tiresome feminist complaining that fills the "self-help" book's pages. Is this what gives Nancy Pelosi "power"?

Despite her own story, Pelosi told Today host Meredith Vieira on Monday, "I think sexism is all-pervasive in our society." She added, "I don't make a big issue of it." Yet, she does.

Pelosi complains that when San Francisco mayor Joe Alioto phoned to ask her to join the city Library Commission, he asked if she was "making a great big pot of pasta e fagioli." He "assumed that the only thing I could be doing at five in the afternoon was cooking," she says--never mind that she happily stayed home "cooking meals for five children for 20 years."

She complains about the "double standard" in "the way in which the press--and the public, too--examines a woman candidate's clothing and hair down to the millimeter." But the only example she provides is a woman who compliments Pelosi's designer suit on the campaign trail, thinking it is her "favorite pattern. Simplicity 124!"

Even Pelosi's husband Paul is at fault. Soon after they met, he asked her to pick up his shirts from the drycleaner while she was there to collect her own. "How could he ever have thought I would pick them up?" she asks, apparently unfamiliar with the idea that friends do each other favors. "After we were married, he once asked me to iron a shirt. That didn't happen either," says the 20-year stay-at-home wife and mother.

Pelosi warns young women about "The Secret Sauce Club" among men "in Congress, a corporation, a boardroom, or a campus." She explains, "Their message was, 'Only we know the secret sauce for success; you don't, and you never will.'" She doesn't provide any examples, but she does say, "It's going to take a little more time--and a little more disruption--before the secret sauce attitude completely disappears." She encourages America's daughters to run for office and gain "many more seats at the table," but why would they want to when they read her complaints?