The Speaker Writes

Posted July 28, 2008 at 2:52pm

Nancy Pelosi was living in her mother-in-law’s house with her husband and four young children when she finally found the perfect home for her family.

The rental was large, had already been childproofed and had a sandbox and swing set in the backyard.

She was practically sold until she asked why the current residents were moving.

The owner explained that her husband had been appointed deputy secretary of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare for the new Nixon administration, so they were moving to the East Coast.

“We won’t be able to live here,” Pelosi said. “I could never live anyplace that was made available because of the election of Richard Nixon.”

That statement, Pelosi’s youngest child Alexandra once agreed, sums up Nancy Pelosi. She is a staunch liberal who sticks to her ideals.

Although her new book, “Know Your Power,” emphasizes the strength of women and encourages them to get involved in politics, personal anecdotes are the highlight of the book. In another chapter, Pelosi recounts her first conversation with her husband, Paul.

Pelosi was attending summer school at Georgetown University and was visiting her roommate’s fiance’s house when Paul stopped by. When Pelosi announced that she had to step out to pick up her dry cleaning, Paul handed her his ticket and asked her to pick up his shirts as well.

After Pelosi returned from the cleaners, Paul asked for his clothes. The Speaker recalls her answer:

“‘I forgot all about your shirts,’ I said. My friends thought my response was amusing, and Paul found it intriguing. I really had forgotten about his shirts. But how could he ever have thought I would pick them up?”

While entertaining, these personal stories are short and few, leaving readers wondering how they can read so many pages about the Speaker’s life and learn so little.

There’s no dishing dirt or dumping on her foes. What information Pelosi does divulge sticks to the facts.

The only daughter after six sons, Pelosi grew up in Baltimore’s Little Italy in a devoutly Catholic and protective family.

Her father, Thomas D’Alesandro Jr., was a New Deal Democrat who served as a House Member from Maryland and the mayor of Baltimore for 12 years.

Although she had law school ambitions, Pelosi fell in love and married young, quickly creating a family with five children.

While she has always been involved in politics, Pelosi had no thought of running for Congress until her close friend, Rep. Sala Burton (D-Calif.), lay dying of cancer and endorsed Pelosi as her successor. Pelosi won in a special election and took office in June 1987.

In 2001, Democratic Whip David Bonior decided to run for governor of Michigan and Pelosi became the first female party Whip the next year.

After the 2002 elections, then-Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) announced he was stepping aside as House Minority Leader to run for president, and Pelosi took his place. And after the Democrats took back Congress in the 2006 elections, Pelosi became the first female Speaker of the House.

Pelosi dedicates the majority of pages to her belief in the strength of women and applauding how much headway women have made over the years.

The book’s subtitle proclaims the memoir is “A Message to America’s Daughters,” and Pelosi recounts the challenges of being a woman in a “men’s club,” which is how she described Congress in 1987. Pelosi encourages women to get involved in politics, aiming to build on the 74 women in the House.

In addition, Pelosi repeatedly says that being a mother and homemaker is an important job that helped prepare her to juggle her responsibilities as a Member of Congress.

“Raising children is saving the world, one child at a time,” she writes.

The end of the book reads more like a floor speech than a memoir, as Pelosi describes her views on the Iraq War and health care.

She concludes the book with a look at where her children and grandchildren are today because family always comes first for Pelosi.

She would not even run for Congress without her children’s approval.

Alexandra, her youngest, was a senior in high school in California when Burton endorsed Pelosi to run for her seat. Knowing that she would be in Washington from Monday through Thursday of each week if she won the election, Pelosi spoke with her daughter and told her she would not run if Alexandra did not want her to.

Alexandra’s response — “Mother, get a life!” — put everything in perspective for Pelosi.

Get a life, she did, leading a groundbreaking political career and becoming second in line to the United States presidency.

Despite these accomplishments, “Know Your Power,” which goes on sale today, only probes the surface of Pelosi’s exciting life. Readers turn the final page inspired to become involved in politics, but wishing they knew more about Congress’ most powerful woman.

Pelosi will discuss her book on Wednesday at Sixth and I Historic Synagogue, 600 I St. NW. Tickets are $23.95 and include a copy of the book and two tickets to the discussion. Call 202-364-1919 for tickets.