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Nancy Pelosi’s Lesson Learned: Know How to Throw a Punch

Topic: Women in Politics | By Patricia Murphy | December 20, 2011

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi sat down with Citizen Jane Politics last week as the House worked to push through a $1 trillion spending bill and a payroll tax cut compromise.  
Between votes votes on the House floor and just after a press conference, she welcomed CJP into her gold-toned Capitol office, showed off a hand-made Christmas card from Bono and his kids, and sat down to discuss the moment she first decided to run for office, what she thought of Newt Gingrich’s interactions with Michele Bachmann in the last GOP debate, and the skill every woman in politics should possess…
CJP:  When did a light bulb go off in your head that said, I’m going to run for office? 

NP:  It happened under unusual circumstances, when there was a vacancy that was unexpected.  But it goes to what I want young women to be thinking– be ready, because you just don’t know when the opportunity will present itself.  I had not even thought about running for office, but the opportunity presented itself and I took stock.  Of course, first and foremost I had conversations with my husband and children and then made a decision to do it.  I thought I was doing my civil duty.  As it turns out, I enjoyed every minute of the public policy aspects of it.

CJP:  And you had five children at the time.

NP:  I had five children.  Actually our youngest was going to be a senior in high school and the others were in college.  So I went to her and said, ‘Alexandra, Mommy has an opportunity to run for Congress.  It would be better if it were one year from now when you were off in college, so I just want to see what you think.  If you want me to stay here with you, that’s good.  Or if you want me to go for this, it’s just four days a week, I’ll be home on the weekends.  She looked as me and said, ‘Mother, get a life!”  What teenaged girl would not want her mother being gone three days as week? And she’s very close to my husband, so I knew she would be safe.  So I did, then, get a life.

But I want young women to think about public policy and their role in it.  Whether it is to run, to support somebody else to run, or just work with others on issues of concern to them like the safety of the neighborhoods or the environment in which they live, because I believe there is nothing more wholesome to the political process than the participation of women in politics and in government.  We add something very special and different and it is very urgent that women participate.

CJP:  When you ran for the House, did you conceive you would ever be Speaker?

NP:  Oh no, no, no.  I didn’t ever even conceive that I would run for public office.  I hear stories every now and then, ‘Oh since she was five-years old she wanted to be Speaker of the House.’  And I’m like no, I just wanted to rock around the clock, I was a 50′s teenager!  Five-years old?  Forget it!  So no, I never conceived that.

I was in Congress a long time before I ever thought about running for leadership.  Other people had encouraged me when I was relatively new here to seek a leadership position, but that wasn’t really why I came- I came to work on the issues, that’s what I loved doing.  But I sought leadership because I was quite tired of the Democrats losing.  I said, I know how to win, I know how to get this done.  I know how to get the majority, so that’s why I ran for leadership.

CJP:  Senator Dianne Feinstein once said that for a women to be in office successfully, she has to know how to take a punch.  

NP:  Oh definitely.  And throw one, know how to throw a punch.

Let me say it in a nicer way– if you’re going to throw a punch, you have to be ready to take a punch.   I remember when Dianne was running for governor– we love her so much– and a lot of women rallied around her, people who had not been in politics before.  Some of my friends called me and said, ‘We were very excited about Dianne running for office, but she’s getting very aggressive in the campaign.  That’s not why we wanted her to run.’  And I said, ‘That’s what it takes to win.  They’re attacking her, she’s got to stand up there and fight.’

But these women wanted to just be up there and be very nice like, ‘We’re nominating a woman and isn’t this nice,’ without understand that for women, they’ll attack you for your ethics. They’ll attack you for your perceived lack of knowledge on the issues because you’re not wearing a suit and tie.  They’ll attack you because you ‘don’t know about our national security and economy.’  They’ll trivialize your accomplishments and ability and, because women are viewed to be much more ethical than men, they’ll make up some story to go after you on ethics.  I’ve seen it so many times.  That’s the way they undermine women candidates.

They just thought it was going to be like this nice tea party….let me put say another version- an ice cream social!

CJP:  Newt Gingrich has been criticized for the most recent debate, when people believed he was very condescending toward Michele Bachmann.  He did not attack her, he did not take her on, he just said, ‘Michele’s facts aren’t right.’

NP:  I didn’t see it.  But I heard that appraisal of his condescension toward her.  Not a good idea, not a good idea.  Women don’t like that.