Demonizing Pelosi

[Become a member of the Frog Pond].

Joe Gandelman has a good and quite amusing piece in the Moderate Voice about concerted GOP efforts to do to Nancy Pelosi what the Clintonistas did to Newt Gingrich.

You can hear the music starting now. That menacing cadence. The numbing feeling that something could soon happen. A small move that you see in the corner of your eye that makes your blood run cold. And then it happens:

Nancy Pelosi could be Speaker of the House...

That's apparently the gist of a GOP effort right now to try and rally the party's faithful.

Before I even discuss this strategy, it is worth noting that no woman has ever held the position of Speaker of the House. For a woman to rise to the top of an organization of 435 politicians would be a greater accomplishment and a more difficult task than for a woman to simply win the two step process (primary and general elections) to become commander-in-chief. If Nancy Pelosi becomes Speaker, it will be a moment to celebrate on those grounds alone.

And that gets me to the analysis.

Can a woman be as effectively demonized as a man? I'd say, other things being equal, the answer is no. Nancy, as her spokesperson is quick to point out, has five children and five grandchildren. Attacking grandmothers is never a very popular tactic. And, even though the Republicans don't shy away from such things (I remember hearing Hillary criticized for having only one child), that doesn't make them effective. There is still a basic element of chivalry in the American male that rises to the defense of a woman under attack and that finds such behavior to be unseemly. This somewhat archaic tendency is probably even more pronounced in the south than it is the bluer parts of the country. The south is, after all, slightly more patriarchal than the rest of the country, and almost unfailingly polite.

At this point you might be asking, 'yeah, okay, but what happened to Hillary?' In response, I would say that Hillary was a special case. Hillary came to Arkansas with a Yankee's attitude. Her independence, ambition, and her dripping contempt for traditional gender roles and restrictions clashed with a more conservative ethos that prevailed in the south. It is fine for Nancy Pelosi to behave the way she does in San Francisco, but it would be another thing for her to behave that way in Fayetteville. Hillary hatred was rooted in a mutual disrespect.

I'm not some Tammy Wynette standing by my man.

Hillary gave and she received back in return. Hillary hatred has begun to recede as she has settled in New York, lost her southern accent, and moved on to other battles than questions about her ambition. She no longer threatens the south in large part because she is no longer a southerner.

Pelosi has never been a political figure in the south. In fact 51% of Americans do not even know who Pelosi is (a number that is probably much higher in red states than in blue). What the Republicans will do is attack Pelosi for representing San Francisco. For much of the country the mere words 'San Francisco' are code for 'homosexual'. It's also code for 'hippy', 'radical', 'leftist extremist'. These types of attacks are not gender specific. For two generations the Republicans have attacked Democrats from Massachusetts, characterizing them as liberal and out-of-step with mainstream American values. San Francisco represents a similar opportunity.

"[I]f Al Qaeda comes in here and blows you up, we're not going to do anything about it. ... You want to blow up the Coit Tower? Go ahead"- Bill O'Reilly, November 5th, 2005

The right will try to paint San Francisco as an alien place, a place of sodomy and hatred of America. Pelosi will become the personification of sexual permissiveness and anti-militarism. And, yet, Pelosi is a mother of five, grandmother of five. She just isn't that scary. She isn't that threatening.

There is a certain element of the American public that remains distrustful of women in positions of power. Part of it is doubt about whether women can be tough enough to be trusted with national security. Part of it is probably related to deep-seated psychological issues, perhaps related to potty-training...who knows? But a woman like Pelosi, who opposed the war and wants to bring it to a swift close, plays into those fears of lack of toughness. And that is where the GOP will strike. Homosexuals are not seen as tough, anti-war demonstrators are not seen as tough, San Francisco is not seen as tough. But, a woman doesn't rise to the top of the House of Representatives by being a wallflower. Pelosi is as tough a political fighter as there is in D.C. And it is not clear how successful the GOP will be in trying to convince the public otherwise.

Republicans believe Pelosi, daughter of a former Baltimore mayor who represents San Francisco, could become a liability for centrist Democratic incumbents and challengers, such as Reps. John Spratt (D-S.C.) and Melissa Bean (D-Ill.), who have to rely on independent and centrist GOP voters to defeat a GOP incumbent.

Gingrich was easy to demonize. He divorced his wife while she was in the cancer ward of the hospital. We'll see whether Pelosi can be painted as the menacing face of the Democratic Party. Methinks they will fail to make much headway.

Tags: Alcee Hastings, GOP Line of Attack, House 2006, Images, midterm elections, Mollohan, Nancy Pelosi, newt gingrich, William Jefferson (all tags)

Comments

5 Comments

Demonizing won't work, but...

Start with the numbers.

The response of Joe Public to

Nancy Pelosi could be Speaker of the House...

will be either Who the fuck is Nancy Pelosi? or So what?

As bogeyman material, she ranks with Miss Piggy.

If the GOP go that way with her, they deserve another 1936 in the House!

The attack, I'd suggest, will be quite different. They'd have a good mixture of Jefferson, Mollohan and Hastings to start with. (With McKinney as Ikette.)

Dem reps include a whole bunch of dubious characters; and under a weak, ineffectual, Pelosi, compromised by her liberal inclinations, there will be no stopping them.

The vibes they'll be going for will certainly include the SF thing (queers, hippies and dopeheads - californicated) and the female thing. (The chauvinism tag they'd counter with implied comparisons with strong, hawkish Hillary - 08 is a long way off, 06 the priority.)

The racial angle is there - colorful characters like Jefferson and Hastings feed the idea that the Dems (especially Dems of the Pelosi stripe) are white pantywaist liberals, so transfixed by their own self-indulgent racial guilt that they let anyone in the party who's not lily-white get away with murder.

And - a variation - that Dems are beholden to particular groups (blacks, pro-abortionists, homosexuals, etc) for which they're prepared to sacrifice their integrity and their duty to the American people as a whole.

They'd bring in her age - don't for God's sake mention the grandmother thing - that just feeds their line a treat! Why isn't she with the grandkids?

And her recent MtP and other TV performances play into the weak, indecisive woman idea. Show is so much better than tell - and the GOP will have some toecurling footage of the Signora.

Now, the argument might be made back: Hey, GOP, why should you care about the weak leadership of House Dems? That's a plus for you!

But it's a fancy-shmancy, insider argument: among the target audience, weak is bad; they're dubious about women in political charge, but would pass a demonstrably strong woman. A Margaret Thatcher, say. (Or a Hillary. Other things being equal. Which they won't be.)

Mostly, they'll not spell this stuff out - they'll go subliminal on her ass. There are so many iconic images to tap into to juice race and sex campaign point - the Willie Horton approach - they'll be spoilt for choice.

Of course, there's no way for the Dems to dump Pelosi before November, even if they wanted to. (Whoever they might be, in context.)

What's needed is anticipation and counterattack. An industrial-scale rebuttal/prebuttal operation. A Dem leadership quick on their feet, persuasive, in command of their briefs.

As the Dixie Chicks once sang, There's your trouble...

by skeptic06 2006-05-17 07:43PM | 0 recs
Omigod!

I just read to the end of the Gandelman piece and find - Pelosi's mouthpiece mentions the grandmother thing!

Jesus wept!

by skeptic06 2006-05-17 07:54PM | 0 recs
Re: Demonizing Pelosi

Her age won't be mentioned. Age doesn't seem to matter to Jane and Joe America.

The list of old politicians, many of them Republicans, is just too numerous. The Senate is littered with old people. Reagan was old when he got elected in '80.

Age really isn't interesting to the electorate. I have no idea why.

by KB 2006-05-18 05:05AM | 0 recs
Sex double standard

Pelosi is 66. Not terribly old as legislators go. (Boehner is 55, Hastert is 64.)

Why may the age question be different for Pelosi?

One reason: because she would be the first woman Speaker, HWIC.

And, for some reason, giving a woman (of any age) the top job is a problem for a lot of Americans.

(The UK was not exactly a feminist paradise back in 1975 when Margaret Thatcher was elected leader of the Tory party. Or in 1979 when she was first elected prime minister. She was a one-off. But evidently there was no absolutely bar in the British people's mind to a woman leader.

I think, with many Americans, there is. The polling is screwy: 92% say they'd vote for a woman president, 55% say the country is ready for one. Lot of spiral of silence there, methinks.)

There are lots of old guys on the Hill. But they're mostly that - guys. And, while they may wield influence in the inner counsels of the Congress (as committee chairmen, say), or make their living as professional old-timers (Bob Byrd and the late Strom, for instance), that's a mile away from being House Speaker. (OK, so Hastert's a figurehead: but most Speakers aren't.)

Plus - when you couple age and sex with Pelosi's truly terrible TV presentational skills (in what I've seen of her), you don't need the most outrageous swiftboating in the world to make a damaging campaign against her (and thereore the House Dems).

She and the rest of the Dem leadership needs to be ready to counter this stuff.

by skeptic06 2006-05-18 06:04AM | 0 recs
Re: Sex double standard

Plus - when you couple age and sex with Pelosi's truly terrible TV presentational skills (in what I've seen of her), you don't need the most outrageous swiftboating in the world to make a damaging campaign against her (and thereore the House Dems).

She and the rest of the Dem leadership needs to be ready to counter this stuff.

If for no other reason than her dismal TV presentation skills, I completely agree that the Dem leaders need to be ready.

There are lots of better choices than Nancy for doing face time. I hope she's smart enough to use some of those others and keep herself in the background saying, "Yeah."

It will be interesting to see if woman + age = attack vector. It's certainly worth noting. Thanks for pointing it out.

by KB 2006-05-18 07:00AM | 0 recs

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