Book World: Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Author of 'Know Your Power'
Wednesday, August 6, 2008; 3:00 PM
Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the first female Speaker of the House in U.S. history, was online Wednesday, August 6 to discuss her new book, Know Your Power: A Message to America's Daughters, which was reviewed in the Style Section. In the book, she writes about the women who have inspired her in her personal and professional lives, and about the lessons she wants to pass on to the women in her own family as well as around the country. She'll also discuss the current political scene as we head toward the presidential nominating conventions.
A transcript follows.
Join Book World Live each week for discussions based on stories or reviews in each Sunday's Book Worldor in the weekday Style Section.
Wilkes-Barre, Penn.: Madame Speaker: Hello, and I hope you are enjoying the recess from Congress. Two questions: 1. How on Earth did you find time to write a book while holding the title of Speaker of the House? 2. The subtitle of your book is "A Message to America's Daughters." Is this book specifically or solely for females? Or for daughters? Can I, as a male, read it and enjoy it?
Nancy Pelosi: Thank you all for stopping by to ask your questions. I look forward to telling some stories from my book, Know Your Power, and sharing lessons for America's daughters - and sons.
Last summer for one week we made it a family vacation to record our remembrances and snapshots of my upbringing and our life together. I spent four more days recording some of my House stories. The transcript was 1100 pages long. After the first of the year, Amy Hill Hearth helped me edit it down.
I wrote the book in response to people asking me what it was like to go from housewife to House Speaker and for advice as to how young people, especially women, could balance family and career. Many fathers have told me that they have read my book and want their daughters to read it - so I certainly hope that you will enjoy it!
Brighton, Michigan: Speaker Pelosi, We look forward to seeing you in Ann Arbor, Michigan tomorrow. I am bringing my young grandson AND granddaughter to see you. From reading your book, it is clear that faith has played an important role in your life. How does your faith influence you with your daily responsibilities as Speaker of the House? Thank you.
Nancy Pelosi: My faith has always been central to my public service. Growing up in Baltimore, we were raised in a devoutly Catholic family and taught that we had a responsibility to other people and that we must always honor the spark of divinity in each person.
When I became Speaker, I quoted St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of San Francisco: "preach the Bible; sometimes use words." I try to follow that guidance in my work - to remember that we a re all God's children and we have a responsibility to each other and to our planet - God's creation.
I look forward to meeting you and your grandchildren tomorrow.
Boston, Massachusetts: Speaker Pelosi, given your family background, you had to know that politics is a tough game, so what made you choose elected office as your second career?
Nancy Pelosi: My parents taught me that public service was a noble calling. I had no intention of running for public office. For several years, I was an engaged volunteer in my community and in the Democratic Party. When the opportunity came to run for Congress, the issues and causes were so compelling that I decided to put myself forward as a candidate. I came to see my public service as an extension of my role as a mother - to make the future better for children. That is why as Speaker I gaveled the House to order "for all of America's children."
Mount St. Joseph HS, Baltimore, Md.: Greetings to the honorable Rep. Nancy Pelosi from Charm City, her hometown. Marie Antoinette (Apicella)says "hi"! We are starting a "Draft Pelosi for VP" movement here!
Nancy Pelosi: Thanks for the messages from Baltimore my Baltimore.
Charm City has given me roots and wings - it nurtured me when I was growing up and enabled me to raise my family with a sense of community. I loved growing up in Little Italy and going down to Ocean City in the summers - and loved sharing those experiences with my own children during their summer visits. One good thing about working in Washington is that it's close to Baltimore and I can visit my family and friends there.
Baltimore, MD.: Your father was active in politics in Maryland. What lessons did you learn from him and Maryland politics that you found useful in Congress and in California politics?
Nancy Pelosi: When I was born my father, Thomas D'Alesandro, Jr., represented Baltimore in Congress.
When I was in first grade, he was elected Mayor.
When I went away to college, he was still the Mayor.
Politics was very much a part of our lives.
I learned from him and my mother to treat constituents like family, to be compassionate, and to win elections. No matter what the race or legislation, you must know how to count the votes. My brother Tommy (who was also Mayor of Baltimore) continues to be a strong influence in my personal and political life.
Growing up my multi-ethnic Baltimore taught me to respect the heritage of each person. This has served me well as I represent the very diverse city of San Francisco in Congress.
To this day, my Baltimore roots are still a source of strength to me.
Fargo, North Dakota: Do you believe that members of the US House should vote the way their constituents want them to vote?
Nancy Pelosi: I always encourage incoming Members of Congress to follow the three Cs - the Constitution, their conscience, and their constituents - and remind them that their title and their job description are the same: representative.
It is up to each elected official to balance their responsibilities to the three Cs and to explain that balance to their constituents. We will not always agree with our elected officials 100% of the time, but we can expect them to do what they believe is right.
Anonymous: Dear Speaker Pelosi, I am a young woman who has interned on the hill and am currently working at a consulting firm in D.C. I'm often frustrated with the stereotypes of women who choose to be feminine, dress feminine, wear make up, etc. I often feel that, while I am a huge nerd and very ambitious in my career, people don't see beyond the "blonde sorority girl" stereotype. How did you establish yourself as a woman who has both brains and a feminine side? Have you come across that issue?
P.S. I was able to meet you last year, and it made my summer! You are such a huge inspiration to me!
Nancy Pelosi: When I first came to Congress in 1987, sometimes it seemed like people cared more about how we looked and what we wore than what we thought. At first, they never asked us what we thought - even when the subject was childbirth.
On Tuesday evenings, I would often have dinner with a group of members of Congress. Usually I went with Barbara Boxer and Barbara Kennelly. We had many lively debates, and one thing was clear to the women of the group: The men never turned to any of us and asked, "What do you think?" The two Barbaras and I didn't care one bit. We would just chime in if we wanted to. But one night, for some reason, one of our male colleagues brought up the topic of childbirth. Probably a friend or staffer was having a baby.
Before we knew it, all the men were discussing their experiences with childbirth. The first one said, "God, when I had my first, I had the green gown on but they wouldn't let me in the room..." Next my friend, Marty Russo, said, "I had a camera, but when I saw it happening, I said, 'Oh God, let me out of here'..."
Another one said, "Oh [expletive], I thought I was going to faint...."
Meanwhile, we women were sort of elbowing each other, trying not to laugh. We were all thinking, "Well, surely now, they'll ask us."
It never happened. Not a word! Eleven childbirths among us, and not once did it occur to the men that we might have something to contribute on the subject, or that perhaps we wanted to change the subject. They didn't have a clue.
Later when this came up again, they said that could never had happened. They didn't have a clue that they didn't have a clue!
But they had not intended to offend us, and we didn't take offense. We had made our point, and that was enough. I had decided, long before, that I had not come to Congress to change the attitudes of men. I came to change the policy of our country. If it happened that some of their attitudes changed because they came to respect the women members, that was fine. But it wasn't my objective. And although I always ask all of my colleagues their opinions, this much I can promise: As the first mother Speaker of the House, I won't be asking these men for their thoughts about childbirth. I think I have that covered.
Indeed, one of the reasons I wrote the book is my hope that many more women - indeed a wave of women - will be attracted to public service.
Chicago, IL: Speaker Pelosi,
Now that you've written your own book, tell us, what is your favorite book?
Nancy Pelosi: My favorite book is 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I also love any book written by Umberto Eco.
Marietta, Georgia: Dear Madam Speaker,
Although this forum is primarily focused on your book, I cannot help but bring up an issue that is affecting each and every American. Why have the American people not seen energy legislation that lowers the price of gas?
Nancy Pelosi: Now let's pivot from book questions to a topic many of you have raised: the high price of gasoline at the pump and what we can do about it.
Every American family is affected by the high price of oil and gas. It is our responsibility in Congress to protect the consumer and increase the domestic supply of energy. For the past 18 months, the Democrats in Congress have set forth an energy agenda. Some has been passed into law - and some has been blocked by the Republicans.
House Democrats have put forward 13 major proposals that would increase supply, reduce prices, protect consumers and transition America to a clean, renewable energy-independent future. Each time a majority of House Republicans have voted against these proposals.
Let me be very clear: drilling for oil in protected areas offshore will not bring down the price at the pump for 10 years - and then only 2 cents. To say otherwise is a hoax on the American people.
Here's what we can do:
1. Free Our Oil
We can have immediate price relief at the pump. Freeing our oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve will bring down the price of oil in 10 days. President Bush refuses to take this step for immediate relief.
10 years or 10 days - the choice is clear.
2. Use It or Lose It
Democrats passed the Drill Bill which says to Big Oil "Use or or lose it!" - drill in the 68 million acres in the lower 48 states or let someone else drill there. Also, "use it or lose it in Alaska. All of these areas have permits for drilling - and will produce oil sooner than drilling in protected areas offshore.
3. End Excessive Speculation Which Raises the Price of Oil
Democrats were part of a strong bipartisan vote was taken in the House but GOP leaders twisted arms to block passage.
4. Repeal the subsidies for Big Oil
With Big Oil making record profits, they do not need American taxpayers funding their drilling.
Instead we can invest in research, renewable energy, and tax credits for wind, solar and other renewables. This passed the House but failed in the Senate by one vote - John McCain was absent that day but said he would have voted no.
5. Increase Our Energy Supply With Increased Use of Natural Gas - a cleaner energy source.
There is immediate relief for the consumer - if only President Bush would free our oil.
Davenport, Iowa: What will it take to bring the troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan?
Nancy Pelosi: The only way we are going to bring our troops home honorably, safely and soon from Iraq and to strengthen efforts to rebuild Afghanistan is to elect Barack Obama President of the United States to take our country in a new direction.
Our men and women in uniform have done everything we have asked of them - we must honor their service with better policies and with full support for our veterans.
Marie in Washington, D.C.: We hear a good deal about your father. Tell us more about your mother. What was her best quality? What was her best advice to you?
Nancy Pelosi: My mother was wonderful - I describe some of her many talents in my book. She could be a strong politician, a kind neighbor, a visionary, and a loving mom all at the same time. She was the ultimate multitasker. I didn't always take her advice - she wanted me to be a nun, but God didn't bless me with that vocation. She loved seeing the success of other women, and marveled at seeing younger women enter the political and professional arena. In her way, she taught me to know my power.
Ashburn, Va.: Speaker Pelosi -
I am in my mid-thirties - too young to have been a part of experiencing the Apollo moon landings, and probably too old to be considered generation X. I feel as though we are at a crossroads where our generation could make such a significant difference and embark on an ambitious plan to get us away from foreign oil and at the same time perhaps regain our edge technologically and competitively in the world.
Is this type of life changing project something that our federal government can and should do? I think like many in my generation however I have lost confidence that with all of the craziness on the Hill that it can happen while at the same time I maintain the hope that as a country we have and really can do great things if we set our minds to it.
What are your thoughts?
Nancy Pelosi: We are at a crossroads: energy independence is the challenge of this generation. We can continue the ways of the past that got us here, or we can move in a new direction with renewables and clean alternatives that free us from foreign oil and fossil fuels, and create a green economy.
Energy security is a national security issue, an economic issue, an environmental health issue, and a moral issue to preserve God's creation.
The choice is clear: the status quo or a New Direction.
Capitol Hill: Speaker Pelosi, I'm reading constituent letters as I sit at my desk in Cannon (House Office Building) and I find so many men who write us and treat you with such disgrace. It's not fair. Sexist undertones abound in these letters. I am proud of you and think you've done a great job and hope we can get more women elected into positions of power.
Nancy Pelosi: Thank you for your expression of concern. I always say to women: "they wouldn't attack us if we weren't effective."
Before signing off, I want to thank everyone for participating and Elizabeth Terry of the Washington Post for hosting our chat.
I want to leave you with this story from my book:
"Shortly after I was elected House Democratic Whip, I went for a meeting at the White House. It was unlike any meeting any woman had ever been to at the White House.
When the door closed behind me, I saw that it was the President and the leadership - both Democratic and Republican - at the table. Certainly, many respected women had attended cabinet meetings, but they had been there as the President's appointees. This was different. I was there because I was an elected leader of the House Democrats, and I could speak with that independence.
The President, always gracious, welcomed me as a new member of the leadership. As he began the discussion, I suddenly felt crowded in my chair. It was truly an astonishing experience, as if Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Alice Paul, and all the other suffragettes and activists who had worked hard to advance women in government and in life were right there with me. I was enthralled by their presence, and then I could clearly hear them say: "At last we have a seat at the table." After a moment, they were gone. My first thought was, We want more - more women and more minorities at the table. My second thought was, What an enormous responsibility, not only to those who came before me, but to the young women who will follow."
Thank you for the opportunity to visit with you today.
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