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Pelosi’s Value

The new Democratic Speaker of the House has the right priorities and principles

By Andrew C. Esensten

If most Americans didn’t know who Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was before this election, they will come to know her very well over the next few weeks. After nearly four years as minority leader of the House of Representatives, Pelosi will be the next majority leader after the Democrats won 232 seats (as of press time) on Tuesday to take control of the House.

Pelosi will be the first woman ever to serve as Speaker of the House and the first Democrat to hold that position in a dozen years—a period when, Pelosi told Newsweek, no Democratic bill made it onto the House floor.

She’s ready to make up for lost time.

During the first 100 hours of the new House, Pelosi has pledged, according to Newsweek, to “drain the swamp” of GOP muck by enacting all of the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations (why weren’t they enacted earlier?), raising the minimum wage, and promoting stem cell research.

All of this talk about change has made the Republicans queasy. GOP candidates spent millions of campaign dollars on ad hominem attacks—not only against Democratic challengers but also against Pelosi, even though two-thirds of Americans (by her own estimate) had no idea what she stood for. Nevertheless, she was portrayed as a dangerous liberal extremist who would “cut and run” from Iraq and raise taxes wildly if the Democrats captured the House.

Behind these attacks was the fear that Pelosi, who represents San Francisco, would bring what Republicans call “San Francisco values” to her new job. Such values, they claim, do not reflect the values of the rest of the country.

Just ask Bill O’Reilly. Last month, O’Reilly called Pelosi a “committed secular progressive,” whatever that means, and asked, “Should Americans vote for San Francisco values or for perceived failure overseas?” Current Speaker of the House J. Dennis Hastert, in National Review Online last week, asked, “Do we really want Nancy Pelosi’s San Francisco values leading the culture war?” Hastert’s predecessor, Newt Gingrich, echoed him, asking in a Republican National Committee letter, “Will everything you’ve worked so hard to accomplish be lost to the San Francisco values of would-be Speaker Nancy Pelosi?”

Neither Hastert nor Gingrich elaborated on what constituted “San Francisco values,” but we all know what they were thinking. The city of San Francisco became one of the first cities in America to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in 2004. If there is one issue Republicans are most anxious about besides terrorism, it’s gay marriage.

And so the curious phrase “San Francisco values” has become a political epithet. But what exactly does it mean? Are there actually values specific to San Fancisco?

Let’s take a look. San Francisco County has the highest percentage of same-sex couples of any county in the nation. A whopping 83 percent of San Franciscans voted for John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election. On Tuesday, San Francisco voters passed a city-wide resolution calling for the impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Cheney. No wonder the GOP is so scared of the place.

But beyond the hyperbole obfuscation lie the “San Francisco values” the conservatives don’t tell you about. The city guarantees universal health care for all of its residents. There is only one gun shop listed in the Yellow Pages. The percentage of families below the poverty line is 8.9 percent according to the census bureau’s American community survey, below the national level of 10.2 percent. If these are the values that Pelosi brings to the top job in the House, there’s much cause for optimism.

We’ve heard Bush talk about values before. In fact, he’s obsessed with so-called “traditional values.” This past Saturday, Bush spoke in support of a Republican candidate for House in Colorado who, he said, shared the same principles as the people she will represent (she won her race). “Marilyn Musgrave understands the importance of defending traditional values,” Bush was quoted as saying in The New York Times. “She has worked to prevent the institution of marriage from being redefined by activist judges. She understands your values.”

As Bush made clear in his speech, “traditional” is just a Republican code word for white, Christian, and conservative. The Republicans want to stop “activist judges” from allowing gay people to get married; that’s a political objective, and a misguided one, but not a value. Values are beliefs about how we should live our own lives, not paranoia about how we think others should live theirs.

Will Nancy Pelosi bow to the Republican bullies who think there is only one true value system? No way. This woman is tough. She has dismissed the Bush administration as a “freak show” and called Bush incompetent. She can handle the criticism and backbiting that the Speaker of the House will encounter under a (really) lame duck president.

San Francisco, here we come.

Andrew C. Esensten ’07 is a literature and African American studies concentrator in Adams House. His column appears on alternate Thursdays.

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