Friday, January 05, 2007

Meditation on Marble Ceilings

It is taken as a given throughout the media today that all persons of good conscience must be gratified, at least in the abstract, by Pelosi's elevation to the office of Speaker of the House as a triumph for the dignity of women. Isolated contrarians such as Jonah Goldberg have at most professed yawning indifference.

On the other hand what were the qualifications of her rivals for this position? In point of fact she had no rivals at the current moment; her elevation was largely cemented at the time of her elevation to the position of House Whip in October of 2001, defeating Rep. Hoyer, her current intra-party rival, in a 118-95 vote. That victory coupled with Rep. Gephardt's retirement as minority leader in 2002 put her in a strong defensive position to reach the office of Speaker whenever the Democratic Party's fortunes finally turned. Bob Novak contends that Pelosi's elevation in 2001 represented mostly the resurgence of the socially liberal wing of the Democratic Party (embodied by such things as the Progressive Caucus) succeeding in the aftermath of President Clinton's longtime boosting of the New Democrats, aided by the ability of the San Francisco/Sacramento members of that wing to win the support of more moderate California Democrats in that vote.

Given Hoyer's later ability to thwart Pelosi's attempt to prevent him from moving up to Majority Leader, it would seem that the calculations of self-interest of Californian Democratic representatives were decisive, moreso than Pelosi's personal qualifications. That she was a woman was important in making her initial appeal to the identity-politics consciousness of the Progressive Caucus in 2001, to most everybody else it is ancillary to her fortunate family alliances and geographical location.

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