An editorial board meeting with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi never fails to remind why she is the longest-serving party leader in the U.S. House since the two-decade rule of Speaker Sam Rayburn, who died in office in 1961.
As usual, her intense energy filled the room for more than 90 minutes Monday. The San Francisco Democrat covered wide territory — from local to global, from past to future — with her distinct skill of blending graciousness with a sometimes sharp edge. It’s readily apparent why she is so successful at drawing monetary pledges from donors or commitments from colleagues who might be hedging on a key vote or on whom they might support for leadership.
Also not unusual: Pelosi did not miss the chance to take issue with a recent Chronicle story. In this case, it was a piece by senior political writer Joe Garofoli assessing the Democrats’ myriad problems and why some Democrats were questioning whether she was the right leader to pull them out of the mire.
“I thought your article, if I just may say, demonstrated a lack of knowledge of Washington and how it works, and what it is that we do there,” she said in her straight-ahead way.
To condense extended conversation to one paragraph, it appeared that Pelosi’s issues were with passages that Democrats were reduced mainly to playing defense in the GOP-controlled capital, that the party lacked a coherent message, that her signature accomplishments were seven years ago and that her distinguishing asset as party leader was her ability to raise money (“I am a master legislator.” … “I consider myself a policy wonk,” she said at different points).
It’s noteworthy that Pelosi never raised her voice during her vigorous rebuttal to the story’s premises, and, as she often does, spoke of the importance of an independent press as she was leaving the office. I’ve experienced similar “Pelosi treatment” in the past, such as a January 2014 meeting when she dissected our editorial calling for the Presidio Trust to hold off approval of filmmaker George Lucas’ plans to build a museum on the grounds of the national park. Again, that meeting ended with Pelosi expressing her regard for journalists and their role in holding politicians like her accountable.
This is how it should work in civic discourse, whether between politician and journalist or between Democrat and Republican, or even within a party’s factions: disagree while appreciating our differing roles and values, and recognizing that the system is stronger because of these healthy tensions.
Speaking of which, Pelosi has long been a target for vilification by the right, and it’s hard to escape the feeling that it is due in part to her being a woman and being from a city that was in the forefront of gay rights. The disdainful references to “San Francisco values” in political advertising have become more subtle than when scenes from the Gay Pride Parade were employed to scare voters in the Bible Belt. But as Pelosi suggested, there was no missing the subliminal code in the sight of cable cars and the Golden Gate Bridge in ads such as the ones that were used against Democrat Jon Ossoff in the recent special election for a U.S. House seat in suburban Atlanta.