One of the pleasures of hosting the Monitor’s Washington breakfasts is watching some of the best political reporters in the business interact with top government officials.
Sometimes our guest manages to glide past questions with an unremarkable utterance.
But other times, the interaction between reporter and official in a relaxed, civilized setting produces a wonderfully revealing moment.
That was the case Tuesday when USA Today Washington Bureau Chief Susan Page asked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi whether sexism had contributed to Hillary Clinton’s failure to capture the Democratic presidential nomination.
Ms. Pelosi, making her eighth visit to one of our gatherings, responded in a way that acknowledged sexism but cast doubt on whether it placed a decisive role in the primary process, as some Clinton supporters believe.
“I think Senator Clinton got the benefit of being a woman because women are wildly enthusiastic about her candidacy, not just a woman for president but this woman, this talent, intellect, commitment, stamina, don’t forget stamina when it comes to these races,” Pelosi said.
She added, “Is there sexism? Probably so. Is it responsible for the defeat? I really wouldn’t have the scientific...all of the information to know that. But I do think that being a woman had a positive upside in the campaign, probably offset by more sexism, I don’t know. Of course there is sexism, we all know that, but it is a given.”
Then the Speaker went on in a way that shed some revealing light on her own feelings. “I am a victim of sexism myself all the time but I just think it goes with territory. I don’t sit around to say but for that…”
For those of us sitting around the table with her, it was a striking and poignant moment. Pelosi is the highest-ranking woman in the history of the US government, third in the line of presidential succession. She arrived for our meeting in an armored SUV, guarded by plain clothes Capitol Police officers. She is ferried home on weekends in a private Air Force plane. The Almanac of American Politics notes that Pelosi and her husband, Paul, are multi-millionaires and have a home in San Francisco, a vineyard in the Napa Valley, a town home in the Sierras, and a condominium in Washington. And yet, there is a part of her that stills feels like a victim.
Her comments had a matter of fact, not a self-pitying tone. “I am a full steam ahead person,” Pelosi said. The record bears that out. She climbed in the House of Representatives to be her party’s whip in 14 years, leader of her party in 15 years, and Speaker in less than 20.
Pelosi went on to talk about dealing with sexist remarks directed at her. “My impression is yes there was sexism, my knowledge is yes there is sexism. I myself find I get a tremendous upside being a woman and I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about sexist remarks that people make.”