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Speaker Pelosi: "We're Here For the Children"

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Washington, DC: On January 4th at 1:44 PM (EST), Nancy Pelosi was sworn in as the first female Speaker of the House of Representatives. Besides the historic significance, what difference will this make in American politics? A lot, I believe.

First a disclaimer: I'm a long-time supporter of Ms. Pelosi and, therefore, not impartial. That said I believe Nancy Pelosi is the best thing to happen to American politics in many years.

First of all, Speaker Pelosi is a woman and it's important that a woman ascended to the third highest political position in the US. After 150 years of struggle, American women achieved the right to vote in 1920, but it's only been in the last few years that significant numbers of women were elected to Congress. Nancy Pelosi told her House colleagues: "By electing me speaker, you have brought [all women] closer to the ideal of equality that is America's heritage and America's hope." But, it's not simply a symbolic gesture. Having a mother and grandmother as Speaker of the House sounds a different political tone; one that adds heart to the Democratic vision for America. Pelosi's speeches resounded with words like "hope" and "compassion," as well as phrases such as, "we're here to build a future for our children."

Nonetheless, electing Ms. Pelosi Speaker would be an empty gesture if she did not have other qualifications. The dictionary defines a politician as either an office holder "who is more concerned about winning favor or retaining power than about maintaining principles" or "a person who exhibits great wisdom and ability in directing the affairs of a government or in dealing with important public issues." Speaker Pelosi is a politician in the latter sense: a person with both wisdom and ability. She's been involved in politics for most of her life, coming from a political family, and representing her Congressional district for 19 years. Nonetheless, her experience hasn't rendered her cynical and self-serving. Ms. Pelosi remains convinced that politics can be a force for good, given proper leadership.

And, Nancy Pelosi is a leader. She didn't get to be Speaker of the House simply because she is a woman and a skilled politician. She won this honor because Democratic members of Congress recognized that she has distinctive leadership qualities. Will Rogers famously quipped, "I belong to no organized party. I am a Democrat." During the last two decades, rank-and-file Democrats have grown painfully aware of the lack of organization in their Party; joked that managing Dems was like herding cats. Nonetheless, in her four-year tenure as House Minority Leader, Ms. Pelosi effectively led Democrats: organized opposition to Bush's plan to privatize Social Security, galvanized resistance to the occupation of Iraq-by appointing Congressman John Murtha as the Democratic point person, and engineered the Democratic victory on November 7th. Speaker Pelosi is smart and tenacious, while gracious; but above all, focused. She understands that Democrats will not be successful opposing a rigidly ideological, lame duck President unless they stay unified and on message. She's managed to unite the Dems. Now, her message is beginning to emerge: "The American people rejected an open-ended obligation to a war without end", "the American people told [Congress] they expected us to work together for fiscal responsibility, with the highest ethical standards and with civility and bipartisanship", and Democrats envision "America as a just and good place, as a fair and efficient society, as a source of opportunity for all."

Not that her job as Speaker will be easy. In the next few months, Speaker Pelosi will be under pressure from factions within the Democratic Party to do many different things: bring US troops home from Iraq, impeach President Bush, roll back tax cuts, and change our policy in the Middle East, to mention only a few. Rather than resort to factional infighting, Democratic partisans should trust Ms. Pelosi to stay focused and move the Democratic agenda through the House.

Speaker Pelosi doesn't trust George Bush and believes his Administration to be self-serving and incompetent. Moreover, she's convinced that the Administration's handling of Iraq and Homeland Security have made America less safe, and weakened our struggle against terrorism. Nonetheless, she's confident that it's possible to secure America and protect our Constitution.

After twenty-five years of Conservatism, and six disastrous years of the Bush Administration, America has spun wildly off course. Nancy Pelosi won't rectify this overnight: too much damage has been done. What she will do is to serve as the focal point for a disciplined, tenacious opposition. She'll bring attention to the big issues facing the US. And, Speaker Pelosi will appeal to our patriotism: ask all Americans, as she asked the House of Representatives: "Let us all stand together to move our country forward, seeking common ground for the common good." "Let us focus on a future that is not enslaved by the past." And, "Let us build a future for our children."
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Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. In a previous life he was one of the executive founders of Cisco Systems.
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