Nancy Pelosi’s Multimedia Road to the Top

Posted May 4, 2010 at 5:28pm

Without the Internet, Nancy Pelosi would not be where she is today. That’s the argument in a new book, “Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the New American Politics” by University of Oklahoma professors Ronald M. Peters Jr. and Cindy Simon Rosenthal.

For all politicians, “the internet has strengthened parties by creating new pathways for raising money, coordinating and disseminating their messages, and running campaigns,” the authors write.

But the two professors, whose years of research culminated in this must-read, clear biography, found that the California Democrat was the one politician to seriously maximize the Internet’s ability to reach supporters, raise money and attack opponents.

Her forward-thinking approach about the impact new media would play in politics allowed her to secure a San Francisco base and surpass House colleagues for leadership roles because she could use the instruments provided on the Web to connect to more voters and raise more money quickly and more efficiently thanks to the instruments.

It may seem obvious today to Google an opponent, YouTube a message to supporters or promote a campaign on Facebook, but throughout the ’90s and during the first half of the last decade, many prominent lawmakers lacked the intellectual curiosity to learn basic Web browsing skills. These same lawmakers would famously describe the Internet as “a serious of tubes” and even brag about not having e-mail accounts.

On the other hand, Pelosi and a few others, such as President Barack Obama, would go on to gain the trust of the BlackBerry generation. Pelosi, the authors write, “did not think she needed a new strategy; she simply needed better effort. Her mantra was money, message, and mobilization” across all media platforms.

One part of this biography demonstrates how Pelosi’s upbringing as the daughter of a powerful Baltimore party boss shaped her policies and anchored her convictions, and the other part showcases the tenacity and stamina she used to get things done.

It is no mystery how she became Speaker, according to Peters and Rosenthal: “She argued that the party’s electoral prospects depended on active and aggressive leadership that would challenge Republicans. She reprised her 1985 [Democratic National Convention] argument that she represented a ‘western’ perspective that was innovative and in tune with the times. She appealed to her colleagues in the California delegation and on the Appropriations Committee. She appealed to liberal Democrats on the basis of her unyielding liberal record. And she appealed to female members to support her in a historic ‘first.'”

A lot has been written about Pelosi, yet Peters and Rosenthal compile an especially useful piece of the jigsaw puzzle that political books are busy creating. This is not a story about Pelosi’s triumph as a woman in a male-dominated business. Rather, it is a comprehensive analysis of a brilliant Democratic strategist whose rise to the top in the House of Representatives showcases her will to persist until she succeeds.

“Her legislative craft is captured by these adjectives: relentless, passionate, entrepreneurial, pragmatic, and coalitional,” the authors explain.

The book deconstructs Pelosi’s fundraising tactics in explicitly direct terms and aims to paint a picture of what American politics will look like in the next few years.

Knowing something of the deficiencies of the American political system is useful for combing through this book. Nevertheless, the authors do a stellar job of explaining how Pelosi’s advancement and subsequent dominance mark the genesis of the “new American politics,” which they theorize to be “a phenomenon we think rests on five interrelated elements: partisanship, money, organization, technology, and representation.”