The rise of Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton has everybody scrutinizing two very different ladies
On January 4, 2007, Nancy Pelosi was sworn in as the 60th Speaker of the House of Representatives, becoming the first woman to ever assume this role. She is the highest-ranking woman in the history of the US federal government and second in line of succession for the Presidency behind Vice President Dick Cheney. Pelosi, the famously former stay-at-home mom, celebrated her ascension with her children and grandchildren on the floor.
During the same week, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) was sworn in for her second term as her family, former President Bill and daughter Chelsea, watched in repose from the balcony. But few in the media suspect that Clinton will sit comfortably at said post. In the media's eyes, the undeclared former first lady is the putative Democratic Presidential candidate, and likely the most viable female candidate for that post in the history of the Republic.
That these two women have simultaneously ascended to such rarified air has led politicos, journalists, and the public to compare, contrast, and dissect them.
Both Clinton and Pelosi have been credited as strong women who are capable and ambitious, but these women present themselves to the public in different ways - Pelosi, now, as a symbol of a family woman breaking down barriers; and Clinton, headstrong and direct, but ultimately an estimable force for the 2008 ticket.
To the media, Pelosi is firmly seen in her role as a "woman in politics," not as a politician who happens to be female. She loves to mention her days as a full-time mom, as it is a heartwarming thread, even though, as daughter and sister to politicians, she has always been active in politics. Pelosi is ensconced in this role, taking time to thank her family for "the confidence to go from the kitchen to the Congress."
And the media followed suit. The Nation and Salon used "grandmother" in their headlines, while syndicated columnist Ellen Goodman talked about her predilection for referring to Pelosi's "mother-of-five voice."
While personality plays a part, the differences between the two politicians also has as much to do with their respective roles in the federal government. Pelosi, for one, may need to channel her time as a parent in order to ensure the House runs smoothly.
"There is a real inside-outside difference between [Pelosi and Clinton]," said Rogan Kersh, professor and associate dean at NYU's Wagner School of Public Service. "You've got a classic, consummate, coalition-building, insider leader in Pelosi."
But America is not yet sure what to expect from its female Speaker.
"We will have to go through this at the beginning when people think, 'OK, this is what a woman speaker looks like and sounds like. Now we're going to judge her on what she acts like,'" Ellen Malcolm, president of Emily's List, told the New York Daily News.
Currently, Sen. Clinton is only truly beholden to the people of New York. While she is forever tied to her husband, the former Commander in Chief, she is also highly independent and able to adapt to situations.
"Hillary Clinton plays to the crowd very well and makes policy addresses as a matter of course," Kersh adds. "Partly as a senator and partly as Hillary Clinton, she has this outsized public persona."
But, as a likely Presidential candidate, she will need to emulate Pelosi's coalition-building posture, especially in a Democratic Party that is still not exactly sure what else, besides antipathy towards the Republican incumbency, propelled them to victory in the midterm elections.
Despite how they differ in their approach and positioning, they are united by what, some feel, is the age-old double standard.
"If either of these two were men, the qualities and characteristics they bring would be admired and not cause the anger and adulation [they] evoke," says David Henderson, former GM of Euro RSCG Magnet's DC office and author of Making News. "What these two women can bring is a new perspective to our government."