Why Pelosi is No Role Model for Women Seeking Office
Yikes! What a response! All I did in my most recent blog was point out the obvious: that when Hillary Clinton ran for president she had certain advantages. The fact that some of these advantages – widespread name recognition, for example, and lots of money in her political pocket – grew out of her previous position as First Lady seemed to me to be clear. My mistake. What was apparent to me was not apparent to every one else.
OK, so let me ask you this: Would the response – both pro and con – have been so strong had I written not about Hillary Clinton but about Nancy Pelosi? In 2002 Nancy Pelosi was elected by her colleagues as Democratic Leader of the House of Representatives, and in 2007 she was elected Speaker. In both cases, she was the first woman in American history to be so honored.
It does not detract one whit from Pelosi’s accomplishments to point out that, like Clinton, she could capitalize on her close relationship to a powerful politician. For Nancy Pelosi is Nancy D’Alesandro Pelosi. She is the daughter of Thomas D’Alesandro, Jr., who for several decades was one of America’s most prominent Democrats. D’Alesandro was elected to Congress five times. Then, for twelve years (1947-1959), he served as Mayor of Baltimore. Given that Pelosi was born in 1940, it’s clear she grew up in a household suffused in Democratic politics. And it’s equally clear that from an early age she used her connections to pursue her interests – which not incidentally mirrored those of her father.
As a young woman, Nancy D’Alesandro interned for Senator Daniel Brewster and future House Majority Leader, Steny Hoyer. After she married and moved to San Francisco – where her brother, Ronald Pelosi, happened to be a member of the City and County of San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors – she took time off to raise her children. By 1977 she had re-entered politics, serving as party Chairwoman for Northern California, and later joining forces with one of the leaders of the California Democratic Party, Philip Burton. Pelosi waited to run for elective office until her youngest child was a high school senior – then she went full tilt. She was elected to Congress in 1987, and again every two years after that.
Would Pelosi be where she is now had she not been her father’s daughter? Maybe. But who would want to argue that the household in which she grew up, and the experiences it provided, and the connections it afforded, were of no relevance whatsoever to her political career?
To their everlasting credit, Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi did on their own achieve a great deal. Moreover aspects of their journey are instructive, and should be considered by those who would follow in their wake. But there is another truth as well, which is that both women have had benefits the rest of us cannot readily replicate. These include not only family ties, and family more generally, but also money. During the course of their lives Clinton and Pelosi, along with their husbands, became rich, really rich, with assets of many millions of dollars. They are not, in other words, like you and me. Or, at least, not like me.
Original post here, by Barbara Kellerman @ Harvard Business Publishing