I started getting all the usual calls last week, from all of the usual national media outlets, with all the usual questions that a local political reporter gets when a local politician makes good. “Who is Nancy Pelosi, really? What do her constituents think of her? Is she going to bring Burning Man and gay marriage to Washington?”
My answer to everyone, from the liberals to the conservatives, was exactly the same:
Relax. There’s nothing to get excited about. Pelosi is by no means a San Francisco liberal. She’s a Washington insider, a born and bred politician who cares more about power and money than she does about any particular ideology.
I’m glad the Democrats are in charge, and Pelosi deserves tremendous credit for making that happen. But she’s not about to push any kind of ambitious left-wing political or cultural agenda.
Just look at her record. Pelosi was weak on the war and late in opposing it. She was the author of the bill that gave that well-known pauper George Lucas the lucrative contract to build a commercial office building in a national park. She worked with Republicans such as Don Fisher of the Gap on the Presidio privatization and set a precedent for the National Park System that the most rabid antigovernment conservatives can love.
Just this week Bloomberg News reported that Pelosi is working with Silicon Valley venture capital firms to weaken the post-Enron Sarbanes-Oxley law, which mandates strict accounting procedures for publicly held corporations.
And just a couple of weeks before the election, she told 60 Minutes that same-sex marriage is “not an issue that we’re fighting about here.”
I think it’s pretty safe to say she’s never been to Burning Man.
Pelosi, who is backing antiwar but also anti-abortion Pennsylvania Rep. John Murtha for majority leader, has an agenda for her first 100 hours. It’s nice moderate stuff — raising the minimum wage (to all of $7.25 an hour), lowering interest on student loans (but not replacing loans with grants), and allowing Medicare to negotiate for lower-priced drugs (but not making Medicare a national health insurance program for every American). Tactically, it’s brilliant: there won’t be a lot of national opposition, and Bush will look like a heel if he vetoes the bills.
In fact, as a political strategist and tactician, Pelosi has proven brilliant. She’s whipped together a dysfunctional party and led the most important electoral change to this country in more than a decade.
Along the way, though, she’s pretty much stopped representing San Francisco. On issue after issue, her constituents are way to the left of her. This fall she didn’t even bother to show up in the district (except to extract money for Democratic congressional campaigns around the country). She spent election night in Washington.
There are a lot of people who think that’s fine. Now that she’s speaker, she’ll be able to do a lot for this city, particularly when it comes to bringing in federal money. I appreciate the fact that her work on the national level, which often involved running away from San Francisco, will allow more-progressive Democrats like Los Angeles’s Maxine Waters to chair powerful committees that can go after White House cronyism and corruption.
But if the right-wing talk show hosts are worried about San Francisco liberals like me, they can take it easy: Nancy Pelosi is not one of us. SFBG