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Nails

As in, tough as...

Grit, savvy and necessities of politics propel Pelosi.


It was predictable that when Nancy Pelosi found herself on the brink of being the next speaker of the House, there would be a lot of talk about history being made: The first woman speaker! The first grandma-speaker! The first speaker-to-be to pick up a phone call from the president and ask ``Do we have a baby yet?'' because she assumed it was her daughter calling from the hospital maternity ward!

But anyone who watched this election knows that the secret of Pelosi's success is the sort of political savvy that used to be attributed solely to the old boy network. The word that comes up most often is ``nails.'' As in, ``tough as nails.''

That's how our local Democratic Congresswomen, Rep. Zoe Lofgren of San Jose and Rep. Anna Eshoo of Palo Alto, described her to me recently. Or, as Rep. Kendrick Meek, a Democrat from Florida, told a Washington crowd on election night, ``She eats nails for breakfast. Because of her we're more unified than we've ever been.''

Sense of decorum

Pelosi's formidable skills at coalition-building and fundraising -- and being vilified by Republicans as a ``San Francisco liberal'' -- are what her supporters and opponents have been most interested in during this election, not her gender. So when the president quipped at a post-election press conference that he would share with Pelosi the names of interior decorators ``who can help pick out the new drapes in her new offices,'' it was more likely to cause eye-rolling than impassioned cries of sexism.

``I guess that comment came off as patronizing, but I didn't think much about it,'' Lofgren told me. ``We've got way too much to do to waste time getting upset about something like that.''

Eshoo also shrugged off the ``drapes'' remark. ``Oh, the poor guy did sound a bit dated, didn't he? I think he meant well,'' she said, laughing. ``But I don't think anyone paid much attention to it. We know that she led us out of a desert, and no one else could've done this.''

Reaction to Pelosi's position in the House has changed since she became the minority leader four years ago. The ``woman thing'' is no longer seen as the notable aspect of her role on the national stage. ``What defines her now has much more to do with being a liberal and her willingness to get out there and raise a lot of money,'' said Barbara O'Connor, director of the Institute for the Study of Politics and Media at California State University-Sacramento. That alone is real progress.

Pioneering spirit

Few are relishing Pelosi's pending speakership more than former Colorado Congresswoman Pat Schroeder, who once defended being a legislator and mother with the famous zinger: ``I have a brain and a uterus, and I use them both.''

Schroeder, now president and CEO of the Association of American Publishers, said that though she had hoped there would be more women in Congress by now, she is thrilled that Pelosi is being recognized more for her achievements than for the mere fact that she'll be a woman running the House.

``She's proved herself 25 ways from the moon,'' Schroeder said. ``She had all these people out to derail her, but she brought this election home.''

And even Schroeder, who had to put up with a lot of barbs about being a woman in the House when she was elected to Congress 34 years ago, wasn't fazed by the president's ``drapes'' remark. It's finally clear that viewing female legislators as political handmaidens is an anachronism.

When people refer to ``nails'' in reference to the woman poised to be the next House speaker, odds are they're not talking about her manicure.

By Sue Hutchison
Mercury News

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