During the six seasons the two played New Jersey mob boss Tony Soprano and his wife, Carmela, on the HBO hit series “The Sopranos,” they so rarely saw each other out of character, Falco said on “Fresh Air,’’ that “he really existed only as Tony to me.’’ That “there wasn’t a lot of information about Jim, the guy who showed up to play Tony,’’ she said, helped her inhabit Carmela.
Now, nobody ever talks like that — including Falco herself right after her TV husband died last year. (“It’s Jim the man, the very dear man, that I will miss the most,’’ she said then, although when you think about it, that should go without saying.)
So Falco’s interviewer tried to give her an out, asking, “Were you particularly sad when he died that you never got to know him as a man?” Not really, she said after a pause: “I mean, I love Jim very much, but we both had very, very full lives on different sides of the country.’’ Tony, on the other hand, she was so close to that she avoided watching the show because “I didn’t want to see him with other women.” She purposely blurred fact and fiction, role and reality, narrative and normal life for the sake of her work.
In the political theater, that kind of compartmentalizing and denial can be helpful, too, and one of this week’s stop-the-car moments in Washington came when Nancy Pelosi, Democratic minority leader of the House, gave an inflammatory answer to an awfully leading question, accusing congressional Republicans of racism and issuing an even more blanket indictment of sexism.
“Pelosi: House GOP holding up immigration bill because of race,” was our headline. What she said was slightly more nuanced than that, but “I think race has something to do with the fact that they’re not bringing up an immigration bill” isn’t a headline.
The former speaker actually tried to have it both ways, first noting that ascribing racism to others is “a very difficult subject to talk about,’’ and then doing that anyway, saying, “I’ve heard them say to the Irish: “If it were just you, this would be easy.” (A Pelosi spokesman said she’d heard this on multiple occasions, not from Republicans themselves but from Irish immigration advocates who said that’s what GOPers had told them.)
“I don’t really want to go to that place,’’ of chalking up to GOP racism House Speaker John A. Boehner’s refusal to bring immigration reform up to a vote, she said. But that was after already having done so. “I would just say that their disdain for anybody who disagrees with them,’’ she added, “is pretty across-the-board.”
Disdain like this, maybe? “I don’t want to go to the race piece. But I think it certainly applies to women. It’s so self-evident that it applies to women.” That congressional Republicans disdain women, a claim that is itself disdainful — and invigorating to the base it’s her job to activate ahead of this fall’s midterms.
When accepting an award from Planned Parenthood recently, Pelosi (Calif.) also insulted those who disagree with her, saying, “When you see how closed their minds are and how oblivious or whatever it is — dumb — then you know what the fight is about.”
Which sure sounded to me as though she’d called those who disagree with her on abortion rights dumb. (Her spokesman said no, no; she meant only whoever it was she’d been telling a story about who’d remarked soon after she was first elected to Congress in 1987 that “Nancy Pelosi thinks she knows more about having babies than the Pope.”) But she is still telling that story 27 years later — I’ve heard it several times — because it makes those who disagree look silly.
In 2011, she went even further, saying that Republicans who voted for a measure opposing abortion rights were willing to let “women die on the floor.”
That kind of statement requires a certain amount of denial. For one thing, denying that R’s and D’s are similarly motivated, even if they arrive at different conclusions, allows her to caricature her political opponents. To suggest that the only reason to oppose abortion rights is disdain for women, even though she’s also said that her family in Baltimore opposed abortion rights, along with some of her dearest and oldest friends — and of course she doesn’t think of them that way.
Or to suggest that opposing immigration reform is racist, even though her allies in the unions haven’t always been on board with that reform, and she would never have suggested they were racial throwbacks.
This kind of talk doesn’t set her apart, particularly among congressional leaders; when told what Pelosi had said, Boehner (R-Ohio) whipped out his own broad brush. “The administration refuses to tell us the truth” on “Fast and Furious,” Benghazi and more, he said, and walked off in a huff. In the Senate, Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) say inflammatory things all the time; just this week, McConnell accused Reid of having a “behavior problem.”
But if she’s no worse than the rest of them — no more intemperate or insulting — that isn’t saying much. I like that she’s never going to be caught telling an adversary to go f--- himself, as Boehner has publicly told Reid. I don’t want her to be just one more name-caller.
So much of the well-financed criticism of Pelosi has for years been expressed in sexist terms. How else to view a recent campaign ad that superimposed her head on a twerking body?
And to expect her to answer low blows with civility, I’ve been told, is to unfairly hold her to a higher standard as a woman. But how about holding everyone in public life to a higher standard, starting not with those we dislike, but those we’d like to continue to admire?