Pelosi: The Meryl Streep of American Politics

What Women Really Think
March 24 2010 2:48 PM

Pelosi: The Meryl Streep of American Politics

/blogs/xx_factor/2010/03/24/the_many_faces_of_nancy_pelosi/jcr:content/body/slate_image

Hanna , I share your fascination with Pelosi. There’s a slide show commemorating health care reform over at Talking Points Memo , and one of the pictures shows an impeccably put-together Pelosi warmly reaching out to grab the hand of Obama as they leave some conference or other. They've obviously just been talking over the intricacies of reform. Except on one hip, Pelosi is also carrying (with no apparent physical strain, though she turns 70 this week) a school-aged grandson with tousled hair. It's a striking image, in part for the rare combination of maternal instincts and raw political power.

Advertisement

She isn't just the second in line of presidential succession, following Vice President Biden (and thus the most powerful woman in American history). She's a mother of five (yes, count 'em, five) kids, a grandmother of seven, and a church-going Catholic, who is still married to her college sweetheart-in many ways the very embodiment of family values. But while older than Hillary, she appears to have suffered none of the battle scars of early feminism and is completely comfortable and confident in her own skin. In the past, the trailblazing achievements of feminist icons often seemed to exact readily visible costs-in the form of an incoherent personal style or a messy/nonexistent love life or family life. (Yes, there are the women of the Supreme Court, but their femininity is cloaked by the burqa of their black robes.) But Pelosi makes combining family, beauty, brains, and political brawn look easy.

She's Lauren Hutton-attractive without looking like she’s been excessively worked over by a plastic surgeon. While she may not push the fashion envelope like Michelle, Pelosi is stylish in an elegant, understated way. (Her outfits throughout reform weren’t the typical red or blue dowdy affairs of official Washington but were instead sleek wool suits in mauve or okra.) She is both ruthlessly effective and quietly feminine. After the House passed health care reform last November in a narrow, difficult vote, Politico reported that Pelosi walked out of the chamber and commented serenely: "That was easy." Indeed, she's so calm and collected, she makes Obama look like a drama queen. When he was freaking out after Scott Brown's election, she coolly told him to get a spine and helped salvage his top domestic agenda. She never appears to lose it or even raise her voice. (Love her or hate her, no one can credibly accuse her of being hysterical or a harpy.) Indeed, she often seems to talk in a breathy whisper. At the same time, she may be the most able politician and strong-arming vote-getter since LBJ. But far from resenting her power as a woman, her mostly male colleagues in the Democratic House appear to idolize her (in much the way conservative men in Britain used to adore Margaret Thatcher).

There’s just no other woman like her in American life. In this sense, she's the political equivalent of Meryl Streep. But like Streep, Pelosi is less a role model for other women than an outlier: Few women (or men, for that matter) are likely to be able to match her accomplishments.

Sara Mosle teaches writing at Philip's Academy Charter School in Newark, N.J., and has written about education for Slate, the New York Times, and the Atlantic among other publications.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore, and Schools Are Getting Worried

The Good Wife Is Cynical, Thrilling, and Grown-Up. It’s Also TV’s Best Drama.

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 19 2014 9:15 PM Chris Christie, Better Than Ever
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 19 2014 6:35 PM Pabst Blue Ribbon is Being Sold to the Russians, Was So Over Anyway
  Life
Inside Higher Ed
Sept. 19 2014 1:34 PM Empty Seats, Fewer Donors? College football isn’t attracting the audience it used to.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 4:48 PM You Should Be Listening to Sbtrkt
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 19 2014 5:09 PM Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?   A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.