Inside Nancy Pelosi’s book signing in Philadelphia. Her remarks on Iran, Iraq – impeachment? And, what did this writer ask that caused her to be escorted out of the building?
Arriving at the steps of the Free Library of Philadelphia Tuesday night where House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was promoting her book, “Know Your Power,” I was promptly scolded by my good friend, activist Joanne O’Neill.
“What? No impeach sign? Here, take a sign,” Jo insisted. “Nope,” I replied. “I’m goin’ in.”
An hour earlier, I swallowed my pride – along with some bitter acid reflux – as I shelled out 17 bucks to purchase a book about “knowing my power” authored by a woman who spent the last few years wielding very little of it when it mattered the most. But, a little heartburn and forgoing a few lattes for the rest of the week was what it would take for me to get close enough to pose a question to the “most powerful woman” in America.
Having learned of the event just the day before, I was relegated to the simulcast room with about 60 others as the auditorium was sold out. I spotted one friendly in the crowd, but he was clearly in plotting mode so I decided to crack the binding of my new book while I waited for the Speaker to arrive. It was a quick read at just over 170 pages laced with anecdotes, some touching, some inspiring – okay, not so much.
It did offer some unique insights. A few grabbed my attention, though I am sure not in a way intended by the author. The reader is invited back 60 years to her father’s Mayoral inauguration. Nancy and her brothers were sent to a room to wait quietly before the ceremony.
When a man walked in and engaged them, Nancy upheld the family rule of not speaking to strangers. Her brothers determined it was okay to say hello. When they discovered the man was the outgoing mayor and it was his office, they quickly found themselves in a standoff.
Pelosi recalled, Joey said to me that he was going to tell Mommy that I was not polite to the Mayor. “If you do,” I said calmly, “I will tell Mommy that you talked to a stranger.” I had just turned seven, and Joey was nine. I didn’t squeal on him, and because I’d earned his respect, he didn’t squeal on me.
Anyone with a sibling can easily recall such a moment. It was Pelosi’s assessment, however, that gave me pause. She writes of the occasion, “I had just built my first strategic alliance.”
A common explanation for why the House Speaker took impeachment off the table is that the table could easily be turned on her because of her prior knowledge of and complicity in some of the most egregious offenses by the Bush administration. Perhaps she determined this was one of those times where it would be in her best interest not to “squeal.”
Another charge made against Pelosi and other Democratic leaders is their insistence of putting Party before all else. In “Know Your Power,” Nancy Pelosi recounts the assassination of Bobby Kennedy and the tone of the 1968 Democratic Convention.
She writes, “Hubert Humphrey won the nomination, but the Democratic Party was still divided, particularly because Vice President Humphrey did not disassociate himself from Johnson’s Vietnam War Policy. I, too, opposed the war, but, wanting to get a Democrat in the White House, I stuffed many ‘Humphrey for President’ leaflets under apartment doors that fall.” Need I remind anyone we ended up with Nixon?
In her book, Nancy Pelosi tells us how much she admires “disrupters.” Yes, disrupters. “Sometimes,” she explains “it is necessary to disrupt the status quo. That is the tradition of our country. Our Founders were disrupters – magnificent disrupters. Martin Luther King Jr. was a disrupter, as were the suffragettes. It is the American way. The change that resulted from these leaders has made our country greater. How can we follow their lead?”
Funny, I don’t recall in the time that Ms. Pelosi has served as House Speaker her appreciating our nation’s wave of disrupters all that much.
I would learn first hand later that evening in a not so subtle way by the Speaker and her security detail that not only does she not appreciate disrupters, she doesn’t take kindly to anyone like myself who would dare…ask a question.
I was deep in thought about Nancy and the Disrupters and it was beginning to give me a headache when suddenly the energy in the room changed. The women around me perked up, inched to the edge of their seats, and leaned forward in eager anticipation. Nancy Pelosi was about to make her entrance.
Tamala Edwards, morning show anchor for 6abc Action News was selected to moderate the evening. Did I mention she was with ABC? As Ms. Edwards sat with a small pile of index cards, Madame Speaker made it clear who was going to guide the discussion. She regaled the audience with vignettes from her book and they ate it up and swallowed it whole. Tamala allowed the Speaker to take her monologue as far and away from it’s starting point as she cared. Occasionally, when Pelosi’s voice tapered off and she allowed for an opening, Tamala would inject an innocuous question like, “Do you ever get scared?”
To this, Ms. Pelosi offered sage advice worth repeating here. “People always ask aren’t you scared and I say just strike that word from your vocabulary. This is not for the faint of heart. You can’t be afraid. You have a vision, knowledge, a plan. You have support. This is what you believe in. If you show one cent of being afraid, your options are destroyed. So you have to believe in what you are doing and you may not win every fight, but you will advance the cause.”
She used the phrase “not for the faint of heart” earlier as it related to success and failure. “We have to understand,” she said “the challenges of success as well as the lessons of failure. Organize, don’t agonize. Politics is not for the faint of heart. Don’t let me give you this impression that people are waiting with open arms to pull you into power. Nobody. Nobody ever in the history of the world has given away power.”
That Nancy Pelosi would be acutely aware that it is not in human nature to give away power makes her avoidance of accountability over the Bush/Cheney power grab all the more frustrating. That she would expect the current administration or future presidents to willingly and readily relinquish these newfound powers is ludicrous. Only now we know that she already understands that they won’t.
In her presentation, she fashioned herself as a DC outsider. “Let me say that Washington DC is a city that is wedded to the status quo. Change is not what they are about and as a leader I say you must be kidding…the city is wedded to the special interests because they all make a living perpetuating the status quo. It’s the special interests, not the people’s interest and that is why it was so important – if I may have a moment of partisan enjoyment – that we won the last election. I have become the Speaker of the House not because I mastered the inside of things, but because I am an outsider and I want change to happen here.”
At this, I was compelled to survey the room for reactions. No one batted an eye. Instead of smirking, there was enthusiastic head nodding. Didn’t anyone remember that change was what was promised in that last election and that the Dems didn’t deliver? Now it was being repackaged and they were falling for it hook, line and stinker. For a moment my mind drifted and I imagined one of the pod people turning and pointing their finger at me with my smirking face and I would be descended upon and forced out. But that would come later.
I snapped out of it and sat at attention when Nancy invoked the Disrupters. “We need disruption. We need disruption,” she insisted. “We’ll throw you a crumb and we’ll keep the status quo? That is not the American way. Our Founders in this city where it all started – they were disrupters. Sometimes you wonder why you have to go to such lengths to convince people of the obvious about the future.” Who you tellin’, I thought. Apparently, my inner-voice now had a Philly accent.
At last, Tamala announced that it would be time for 30 minutes of audience questions as she reached for another batch of index cards. The Speaker smoothly declared that she was going to tell one more story – one very long story. She amused the audience with a tale of being one of three congresswomen outnumbered by a loud group of congressmen who spoke over each other, steered the conversation to their own liking and never asked the opinion of anyone else. Nancy had clearly mastered this technique and was evidencing it at that very moment, but that nuance was somehow lost on the audience members who were instead laughing and clapping.
Pelosi, having already cut into the 30 minutes with her just-one-more story, finally fielded her first question. It was from a 14-year-old boy who asked about off-shore drilling. She gave, what I thought, was a satisfactory answer that could have been summed up in less than five minutes. Instead, she rambled for about 15.
The second question from the audience was very direct and right up my alley. Tamala announced, “We have a foreign policy question. The actual question is – do you think we should blockade Iran?”
Rather than leave it at that and allow the question to be answered, Ms. ABC quickly added “I think we should ask a broader question. Do you think there is a desire and a plan on the part of this administration to engage Iran?” Here, this woman who could barely ask her own questions, was now screwing around with the audience questions.
“Engage?” asked Pelosi. Edwards explained, “Engage – as in militarily.” Pelosi went on to state that she believed there was a debate going on in the administration as to whether we should – interesting choice of words here – “continue a military strike into Iran.” She explained how most of the military opposes it and that it was not a good idea – a military strike, that is. The blockade question vanished down the rabbit hole.
She added for good measure, “Iran keeps insisting that they want to proceed on developing nuclear power, they say, for domestic use. We suspect they have other motives. They cannot be allowed to do this.”
She spoke at length about the dangers of nuclear proliferation. That when discussing WMD’s you had to think of four things: Do they have the technology, the scientific know-how, the delivery system and the intention. The first – technology – was quickly checked off as she described that Iran has received “a lot of technology from China, from Pakistan, probably from Russia and other places and that should never have happened.” As for the three remaining questions, the Speaker said simply, “I hope for the best in terms of Iran. I suspect the worst.”
She balked at an attack on Iran not because they are believed not to have nuclear weapons and not because it would be yet another preemptive, illegal and immoral action.
Her reasons were more closely aligned with talking points that have come from Washington think tanks like WINEP who in June released a report entitled “The Last Resort: Consequences of Preventive Military Action against Iran.” Authors Patrick Clawson and Michael Eisenstadt clearly push for such an action, but address the following conditions as obstacles to be dealt with: “Fears that it would prompt a ‘rally round the flag’ effect in Iran,” the potential for a “parallel clandestine nuclear program,” “world opinion,” and whether the “U.S. is respected for its commitment to multilateral diplomacy.”
The House Speaker explained, “But, I don’t think anything can be accomplished by going into Iran to stop them from developing weapons of mass destruction because that would only galvanize the country around the leadership – that’s A. B. We may not accomplish our goal. They may have parallel program where we think we got it, but we didn’t get it or we got part of it and we didn’t get the rest. And, what have we accomplished in terms of world opinion at the same time.”
Pelosi continued, “What we should be doing, and they’re trying to do this more, but we should have been doing it more robust and sooner is to say to Iran ‘don’t even think about having a weapon of mass destruction’ and we’re galvanizing world, international, global forces diplomatically, economically, culturally, financially, economically to pass sanctions to tighten and tighten and tighten if you proceed down this course.”
“The President of Iran has said, ‘I have friends.’ Well, if those friends want to be friends with Iran, then we can’t have them be friends of ours because our foreign policy is that we cannot permit proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.”
That statement was hauntingly similar to one made by President George W. Bush in November 2001. “You’re either with us or against us,” the president announced as we entered the new “war on terror.” Despite the harsh criticism the president received over that remark, Pelosi’s fans nodded along with her more childish sounding “you can’t be friends with me if you’re friends with them” declaration.
She then shifted to Iraq and declared, “And, let me just say this war in Iraq has been a horrendous dilemna, a grotesque mistake.” Cheers rose from the audience even though the Democratically controlled Congress continues to fund said grotesque mistake.
“They went into that war knowing full well there was no intelligence to support the imminent threat that this administration was contending. I was a senior Democrat on the Intelligence Committee at the time. It’s called the ‘gang of four,’ the top Democrats and the top Republicans in the House and in the Senate and we saw all of the intelligence and there was no intelligence to say that there was an imminent threat of weapons of mass destruction from Iraq. It was clear. I voted against the war. I had all the intelligence and I knew the threat wasn’t there. So, this administration knew all this faulty intelligence stuff, they knew it wasn’t there.”
Yet, Rep. Pelosi’s House floor statement on October 10, 2002, opposing the resolution authorizing military force against Iraq suggests her main reason for opposing was that unilateral use of force would harm the ‘War on Terrorism.’ There was no concern voiced that Iraq was not an imminent threat or that there was no evidence to support the presence of weapons of mass destruction. In fact, she began her speech with, “I applaud the President’s focusing on this issue, and on taking the lead to disarm Saddam Hussein.” Also, in her speech she said when referring to Hussein, “Yes, he has chemical weapons, he has biological weapons, and he is trying to get nuclear weapons.”
This raises the question if she was briefed as one of the “gang of four” and determined, as she stated Tuesday, that there was no imminent threat of WMDs, that the intelligence was faulty and she knew it and the President knew it, why did she cast a no vote urging her colleagues to follow suit, but on the grounds of other reasons? Did she not know her power?
Finally…the most anticipated question of the evening was clutched in the hand of Tamala Edwards. She began quietly in an almost muted voice, “I would imagine it’s those feelings in Iraq that led to this next question. Are you going to allow a motion to impeach President Bush to come to the floor?” Loud cheers exploded in the auditorium and for the first time in the simulcast room.
Then, I’ll be damned if she didn’t do it again. Tamala Edwards gave Pelosi (and Bush for that matter) an out. Edwards began sputtering something about things coming out before the 2004 elections. The impeachment question was transformed into “And, this all occurs before the election in 2004. Where was the outrage? Why do you think the Democrats lost in 2004?”
Thus began another rambling reply by Nancy Pelosi starting with John Kerry and how even though he was an excellent candidate, he didn’t realize how vicious the attacks would become and slowly she turned it into a one-woman strategy session on the upcoming presidential election. She once again invoked “our Founders” taunting those of us who advocate so strongly for the Constitution and she brings them up knowing full well the original question was about impeachment. She talked about optimism and faith and future and the American dream and how that dream needs to be restored. She concluded,
“The search is for truth. The search is for truth to take our country in the direction of our Founders with their magnificent disruption. We have to continue in the tradition of the magnificent disruption and one way for that to happen is for women to know their power.”
At that, I grabbed my book and got in line brimming with power fueled by knowledge and outrage. I had a swell time in the long line with comedian/reporter, Gregg Gethard, and I could feel my blood pressure that had been teetering at stroke levels ease up. Gregg toyed with what he might say to the one who sits third in line to the throne. He concluded he would shower Nancy with ridiculously absurd praise and perhaps, in the process, hit on her. I began to wonder which of us would upset her more.
It was almost my turn. Two women in front of me were chatting away with the House Speaker, taking their time, laughing and fawning. There was no indication that a time limit would be applied. They eventually stepped aside and the assistant handed Nancy Pelosi my book to be signed.
She smiled and I leaned in and said in a calm voice, “You were briefed about torture and the wiretapping years before the public found out. Why didn’t you use your power to stop it?”
Pelosi was indignant, “We didn’t know.”
In an instant, I felt a very firm grip being placed on my right arm. I chose to ignore the fact that it was beginning to tighten and that the man in the suit who belonged to the hand was now leaning into me and trying to pull me aside.
I looked straight ahead at Pelosi and said, “You knew. You were informed.”
Then my left arm was seized by another guy and Pelosi countered, “No, I was not.”
I dug my feet in and continued, “You were briefed as a member of the gang of four about torture in 2002 and as the gang of eight about wiretapping.”
Pelosi was pushing my book across the table and attempting to turn her attention to Gregg when she replied, “We stopped it.” I was incensed. “What? Uh, no you didn’t.”
Two more goons stepped in, one in front of me and one behind and they pulled me off to the side. I pointed out that other people were having long chats and asking all sorts of questions of the Speaker. “Not these kind of questions. We’re not taking these kinds of questions. You’re done,” was the response.
At that point, Pelosi probably wasn’t listening any longer, but fixated on the word power, I managed to squeeze in “Why don’t you use the power the Constitution granted you to stop a president who abuses his powers?!“
They began to escort me out and I wasn’t resisting, but walking slowly as I shouted out, “Know your power Nancy! Stop the torture!” I had had enough and didn’t need their escort anymore and began to leave on my own volition. I glanced over at the long line of people and I realized the incessant chatter had ended all at once like a group of startled crickets. Not one person would make eye contact with me. As I turned the corner under the watchful eye of the security detail, the chatter returned as if nothing had happened.
Outside on the sidewalk, I breathed in the night air – choked a little on the pollution – and began the walk to my car. Then I remembered my new friend, Gregg. Why wasn’t he outside yet I wondered. I pictured him jacked up against the library wall by security, his boyish face pressed into the plaster rendering him unable to speak. All because he decided to hit on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Then the front doors flew open and there was a triumphant Gregg with a mischievous grin (no signs of trauma) and a skip in his step. We walked together to our cars as he delighted me with his story of his newfound love for Nancy Pelosi. Read Gregg’s (way shorter) report on Pelosi’s response to him here. For the record, if you think Gregg’s behavior was sexist, I’m pretty sure he would have done the same with Dick Cheney.
Know your power.