JohnTMay has raised an interesting point on the topic of Nancy Pelosi; I started writing a comment response that has turned into a post. This is one of the topics that gets us chasing our own tails on BMG, in some not-very-productive ways. I want to widen the discussion.
People whom I respect have brought up different arguments about why she is unpopular. (I find the ones criticizing San Francisco’s quality-of-life issues to be particularly unconvincing — sorry Paul.) Correlation is not causation — that logical error is epidemic in political discussions. She is a participant and name-figure in a broken political system — a breakage for which she is emphatically not responsible. But in any event, she’s not drastically worse off than Paul Ryan or Mitch McConnell in approval ratings.
The simplest reasons, and (Occam’s razor) the ones I therefore find convincing, are these:
1. She’s liberal;
2. She’s a woman;
3. She’s effective;
4. Reasons 1 through 3 are greater than the sum of their parts.
Gender scholars would not be surprised. For a 2010 paper in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, the Yale researchers Victoria Brescoll and Tyler Okimoto showed study participants the fictional biographies of two state senators, identical except that one was named John Burr and the other Ann Burr. (I referred to this study in an October 2016 article for this magazine called “Fear of a Female President.”) When quotations were added that described the state senators as “ambitious” and possessing “a strong will to power,” John Burr became more popular. But the changes provoked “moral outrage” toward Ann Burr, whom both men and women became less willing to support.
(This will come as no surprise to basically any professional woman I’ve ever spoken to.)
Human beings come and go. I don’t have any particular brief for or against Pelosi right now — except that as far as legislative leadership is concerned, she’s got receipts, as the kids say: The Affordable Care Act; the cap-and-trade bill (which failed in the Senate); on and on. Remember that she was the only Democratic Speaker in the Gingrich/Fox News era. Mostly, she got it done while she could; but nothing’s permanent.
But it’s not really about her in particular.
What it is about, is women in positions of leadership. We just saw a female candidate for President get absolutely bombarded with all manner of sexist double-standards. HRC was not perfect, nor is Pelosi. But what they were, is real, actual people, not hypothetical “perfect” candidates, much less “perfect female” candidates. If you say you support women being in positions of power .. well, we’ve got a real, living, breathing one in Pelosi, and she’s got her merits and faults.
So I only ask that you compare her to real-life, actual alternatives. Tim Ryan, eg. bombed his audition for leadership. Seth Moulton talks big about changing leadership but I don’t see any actual new policy or messaging ideas emanating from him.
Any real-life alternative candidate for Minority Leader/Speaker will be one of the following:
- ideologically heterodox; too far-left/centrist
- from the “wrong” kind of district;
- the “wrong” ethnicity;
- too old/too young;
- oratorically dull or maladroit; (or maybe, “too slick”)
- the “wrong” gender;
For example: If you installed Katherine Clark (say) as Minority Leader, do you think the right-wing wouldn’t demonize her? Would she be popular in PA-18? If Elizabeth Warren runs for President, do you think she’ll face the same kind of prejudices? (Hasn’t she already?)
If we support women in leadership, we will have to fight this battle. We will have to confront the widely-held prejudice against women in leadership, and we must win. Again, not necessarily for Pelosi or any particular woman, but for women in general — real ones that exist, not political-fantasy figures.
Are we ready for that?