When it's my turn to say what I'm grateful for this Thanksgiving, I'm tempted to say that it's Nancy Pelosi, and here's why...
Back in 1987, when Nancy Pelosi first came to Congress, my boss at the time, who was one of her new colleagues, had quite a crush on her. In fact, I distinctly recall being at one of the famous receptions that were held for members of Congress each night — there could be three or four in one evening — when my boss spied Pelosi entering the room.
“Ooh, there’s Nancy Pelosi,” he said with a twinkle in his eye. “I’ll be right back.” And, as he did with all the pretty women who worked on the Hill, he dashed over to her and tried to woo her with his awkward charm.
Was this sexist, superficial, and shallow? Of course, it was. This was the 1980s, and Congress was full of middle-aged men, like the congressman I worked for, who didn’t look at women as leaders. To these men with limitless libidos, women were afterthoughts, and I know this from experience. I remember all the crude talk among all the men who worked on the Hill.
If #metoo was around during that time, Pelosi and a scattering of other women would be the only members left in Congress. During her speakership, she cleaned up the House and restored honor to the role of Speaker. She opened the door for more women in the House.
Before Pelosi, there were some women in the House who made their mark. In 1976 at the Democratic National Convention, Texas Congresswoman Barbara Jordan became the first African American woman to deliver a keynote address at a national major-party convention. President Jimmy Carter seriously considered Jordan as his running mate.
There was also the flamboyant New York Congresswoman Bella Abzug, who famously fought for women’s equality and knew how to shock-talk her way into the headlines.
And you had Colorado Congresswoman Pat Schroeder, who became the first woman to serve on the House Armed Services Committee. She toyed with the idea of seeking the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination, but she famously cried when she decided not to enter the presidential primaries and was lampooned mercilessly for doing so, including on Saturday Night Live. Those chauvinistic men in Congress took a lot of pleasure in making fun of an "emotional gal."
At the time Pelosi arrived, the office of the speaker would begin to be put through myriad scandals, all self-inflicted by the men who held the highest job in the House. First, you had Texas Congressman Jim Wright. He was speaker of the House beginning in 1987, succeeding the legendary Tip O’Neill of Massachusetts, who had just retired. The majority leader was Tom Foley of Washington, and the minority leader was Bob Michel. All middle-aged white men. Wright would be forced out due to an ethics investigation and Foley took the job.
And Foley, embarrassingly, became the first speaker in history to lose his re-election campaign back home in Washington state. Foley's loss was a decisive blow to the Democratic party, which for the first time in decades, lost the House to upstart Newt Gingrich. And after Foley, there were foolish follies.
Gingrich ascended to Speaker in 1995 after the Republicans picked up 54 seats in the House during the first midterm election of Bill Clinton's presidency. Gingrich was reprimanded by the House in 1997, also due to an ethics investigation, and resigned as speaker the following year. It was Gingrich who brought down Wright, so the irony of Speaker Gingrich flouting House ethics rules like Speaker Wright was not lost on anyone.
Soon thereafter, something was disclosed publicly that was an open secret on the Hill. Gingrich had an extramarital affair with a congressional employee 23 years his junior the entire time he was throwing shade at Clinton for Monica Lewinsky. Again, the good ol' boys kept their mouths shut about Gingrich gallivanting openly around Capitol Hill with his lover.
Gingrich wanted to turn the speakership over to a friend, House Appropriations Chair Bob Livingston; however, Livingston had to decline because he too was having an extramarital affair, all the while calling for Clinton’s resignation. Hypocrisy runs rampant around the speaker's chair.
See what I mean about these white middle-aged two-timing chauvinistic men who dominated the speakership? Wait, now things really took a turn. Dennis Hastert ultimately succeeded Gingrich. He was the quiet guy from Illinois. And we didn't realize how quiet he was and how important quiet was to him. Hastert served eight years before Pelosi took the top job in the House in 2007.
And we all know what happened to Hastert. He went to prison for over a year because for decades he'd been paying a man to keep quiet about being molested. It seems Hastert had a penchant for sexually abusing young men while he was a high school wrestling coach.
You must wonder if the speakership was jinxed. Or if it was because of these, middle-aged white men couldn’t keep their johnsons in their trousers. Well, Nancy Pelosi came in, took charge like nobody’s business, and brought dignity to the position of speaker after so much turmoil.
It’s not hyperbole to say that Pelosi will go down as perhaps the House’s greatest speaker. She masterfully steered through so many important bills, like Obamacare, stood up for so many important issues, like women’s, trans, minority, and LGBTQ+ rights, and spoke out when no one else would, most memorably against former president Donald Trump. And perhaps most importantly, she changed the culture of the House. She recruited more women to run and helped get more women elected. There are now 123 women in the House — a record, and Nancy Pelosi is responsible for making that happen.
If it wasn’t for Pelosi, Trump would not have been impeached twice, and there would be no January 6 committee. She initiated all three actions. God knows what else Trump would have gotten away with without her. Pelosi was more than a firewall, more than an instigator of investigations, and more of a woman than the wimpy Trump could handle. Trump never encountered any woman — or man — who fought back at him like Pelosi. She owned him. He knew that. And he cowered in her presence.
The time that she clapped down at him like a sarcastic mother scolding a child after his State of the Union speech in 2019 was priceless. And the next year ripping a copy of his speech to shreds — indelible and iconic images that will live in the lexicon of famous speaker moments. Pelosi didn’t take crap from anyone, especially Trump. She could have cared less that he called her "Crazy Nancy." Many feared his childish nicknames. Not Pelosi. She treated Trump like the child he is.
Pelosi announced that she isn’t running for a leadership spot, but she will still be a member of the House, and a savant and strategist for the next crop of Democratic leaders. She more or less said that Kevin McCarthy wouldn’t make a great speaker, and she will be proven right as always.
The idiotic McCarthy went gleeful and giddy after she withdrew from the leadership, crowing on Fox News, “We have fired Nancy Pelosi!”
Oh, poor naïve Kevin. He has no idea what's in store for him. Pelosi is 100 times smarter than he is, and while she’s no longer in the leadership, she will help whip McCarthy into servility, but in a different and more calculating way than Trump does. While McCarthy kisses Trump’s ass, Pelosi will knock Kevin down on his. He's going to regret saying the Republicans fired her because she ain't going nowhere for now.
Even after all of this, her intelligence is unmatched, her ability to move the levers of power unparalleled, and no one rises to the occasion and fights like Pelosi.
Sadly, we seem to be back to a narrow-minded middle-aged white man running the House. We will miss the shining star and the dignified and definitive beauty of Nancy Pelosi.
About 20 years after I left the Hill, I was at a Christmas party in Washington, D.C., and Speaker Pelosi came through the doors. I thought back to the first time I saw her with the lothario congressman I worked for in 1987 and had a chuckle. When she appeared in the room where I was standing, there was an aura about her; she commanded the room. I remember being in awe: “Ooh, there’s Nancy Pelosi!”
John Casey is editor at large for The Advocate.
Views expressed in The Advocate’s opinion articles are those of the writers and do not necessarily represent the views of The Advocate or our parent company, Equal Pride.