It’s about Time, and it’s about time.
For all the barriers she has broken, for all the passion she incites on both sides, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has never until today managed to do one thing: make the cover of a national newsmagazine. (Though Ms. magazine featured her on theirs in 2011 as “The Woman TIME & NEWSWEEK Won’t Put on Their Covers.”)
Finally, Time has put her there, with a headline that says, appropriately enough: The persistence of Nancy Pelosi.
Paradoxically, this comes at a moment when she is struggling to regain the influence she once had, and when many in her own party think it is time for her leave the stage.
She never made the cover during the four years that she was the first female House speaker, a position more powerful than any woman in the nation’s history has held before or since, and one she wielded more effectively than anyone who has held it in modern history. In 2009, Time deemed her a runner-up for Person of the Year. I wrote that story, and here is what it said:
She has consolidated more power than any other Speaker in modern history, scholars of the office believe. In the first year of the Obama presidency, she has used that power — and an 81-seat Democratic majority, the largest either party has enjoyed in the House in 14 years — to pass every item on his agenda: health care, energy, regulatory reform, education, pay equity. While most of the outside world’s attention has centered on the intrigue and machinations of the Senate, where bills get snarled in procedure and the 60-vote hurdle to overcome filibusters, “the amount of things the House has done this year has been mind-boggling,” says White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer.
On the other hand, when John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) replaced her in that position, he made the covers of both Time and Newsweek before he ever held the gavel.
This year, Pelosi is a favorite target for Republicans. But making the cover is not a popularity contest. Newt Gingrich was practically a fixture on the cover during his years as House speaker in the 1990s, and he was Time’s Man of the Year in 1995, before the magazine switched to the gender-neutral Person of the Year designation. A cover image is recognition that someone is doing something important, and it’s an invitation for people to pause for a moment — at the newsstand, or going through the mail — and take stock of that.
In this age when Twitter and cable news drive our national conversation, the Time cover no longer carries the significance it once did, despite our current president’s obsession with it. That it has taken this long for Pelosi to be put there says something about the resistance that women in politics and government still face in having their achievements recognized. For Pelosi, it has finally happened.
I don’t know how much she even cares, but coming during a campaign season when more women than ever are running for political office, everyone else should.