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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Democrats-Through the Glass Ceiling

The following editorial appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Monday, Nov. 11:

When Nancy Pelosi is introduced at Democratic Party functions, people often mention her charm. When Pelosi comes up in Republican circles, she is mocked as the “latte liberal” from San Francisco.

But it’s neither her charm nor her liberalism that have put Pelosi, 62, in line to become the first woman to lead a party in Congress. It is her hard work, her fundraising skills and her knack for counting heads.

Alexandra Pelosi, the youngest of Pelosi’s five children, is steamed by the toasts to her mother’s charm, rather than hard work. “In the name of the Democratic Party, she’s been on the phone for 32 years,” she recently told the Los Angeles Times.

If the conventional wisdom is right about what ails the Democrats after Election 2002, Pelosi is a perfect antidote. After a campaign in which Democrats failed to draw sharp contrasts between themselves and their GOP opponents, Pelosi stands up for the liberalism that she has lived since her childhood as the daughter of a New Deal populist, Baltimore Mayor Thomas J. D’Alesandro Jr. She opposed the Iraqi war resolution, the Bush tax cut and welfare reform, for example. And she felt strongly enough about human rights-a cause championed by liberals and conservatives alike-to raise a protest banner in Tiananmen Square in 1991.

The danger for Democrats is that the song they are singing now is off-key and that Pelosi could provide the same kind of clear voice for Democrats that George McGovern did 30 years ago. For example, her support for same-sex marriage-while highly principled and important-is not exactly a national vote-getter outside her hometown.

Pelosi’s extraordinary political skills may enable her to avoid being typecast as the dreaded L-word-liberal. She is so good at lining up votes that she reportedly stunned her friend, Rep. Stenny Hoyer, D-Md., when she told him earlier this year that she had the votes to beat him out for minority whip. By raising $8 million for fellow Democrats and stumping in 90 congressional districts during the election, Pelosi collected plenty of IOUs, which she cashed in when Richard A. Gephardt announced he is stepping down.

The trick for Pelosi-and for the Democratic Party-is to express a clear, progressive alternative to the GOP that addresses the everyday problems of Americans, without appearing weak on national security or too far to the left of the mainstream on social issues. Pelosi relishes the challenge.

(c) 2002, St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.