Nancy Pelosi Embraces the Change Republicans Fear Most

White men have been a minority in the Democratic caucus since 2012. The former speaker understands the power of partnership.

Photo Credit: Victoria Pickering / Flickr Creative Commons

As we approach the end of primary season, Elena Schneider reports that white men are in the minority among Democratic House nominees.

White men are in the minority in the House Democratic candidate pool, a POLITICO analysis shows. Democrats have nominated a whopping 180 female candidates in House primaries — shattering the party’s previous record of 120, according to Rutgers’ Center for American Women and Politics. Heading into the final primaries of 2018 this week, Democrats have also nominated at least 133 people of color and 158 first-time candidates to run for the House…

Their success in primaries could herald a major shift in Congress, which is majority-white, majority-male and still mostly made up of former state legislators who climbed the political ladder to Washington. And the candidates could also mark the beginning of a new era for the rebuilding Democratic Party, which is counting on new types of candidates to take back the House.

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While that is a story we’ve been talking about a lot lately, Schneider never mentioned that, for Democrats, that change happened back in 2012.

When the incoming U.S. House freshmen of the 113th Congress take their class photo, the image will reflect two very different visions of the nation.

On the Democratic side: Women and minorities — a coalition that, along with young voters, largely helped re-elect President Barack Obama — collectively will for the first time in the nation’s history outnumber white male Democrats.

On the Republican side: The majority of the House seats will be held by white men — a group which far outnumbers the now dwindled numbers of House GOP women and minorities after the losses of two minority members and about a half dozen women from that caucus.

I was aware of that because I remember an interview Rachel Maddow did with Nancy Pelosi shortly after the 2012 election. You might want to check out the entire video because it will remind you that there’s nothing new about people suggesting that Pelosi should step aside and allow young people to take the lead. She’s been dealing with that kind of sexist and agist nonsense for years now.

Maddow references the diversity in the Democratic caucus and asked Pelosi what she would say to white people who might be unsettled by the fact that white men no longer make up a majority of the caucus. The Minority Leader’s answer is both thorough and profound.

Everybody’s talking about how we can appeal to [women and minorities] to vote for us and we’re saying no, we’re gonna go beyond that. We want them to represent us. So it’s not about how we want your vote in an election day alliance. No, we want you to have a seat at the table because it’s really important to have the diversity of opinion. It’s not that we want to displace the white males in our caucus. Its that we want to have a mix. There’s something very important in having other thinking—whether it’s gender, ethnic, regional or generational—to have a mixture at the table. It makes the product better. But it also gives people hope outside who say, “there’s somebody there who understands my aspirations, my challenges.”

Pelosi goes on to talk about the fact that she never lost a vote when she was Speaker of the House, even though diversity of opinion is also a hallmark of the caucus. She credits that to the consensus she developed with members, rather that simply demanding that they rubber stamp the leadership’s priorities. That is the mark of a leader who understands the effectiveness of partnership, rather than dominance, as a way to wield power.

Around the same time Pelosi was being interviewed by Maddow, David Simon was reflecting on the idea that the 2012 election meant the death of normal.

America will soon belong to the men and women — white and black and Latino and Asian, Christian and Jew and Muslim and atheist, gay and straight — who can walk into a room and accept with real comfort the sensation that they are in a world of certain difference, that there are no real majorities, only pluralities and coalitions. The America in which it was otherwise is dying, thank god, and those who relied on entitlement and division to command power will either be obliged to accept the changes, or retreat to the gated communities from which they wish to wax nostalgic and brood on political irrelevance.

You want to lead in America? Find a way to be entirely utilitarian — to address the most problems on behalf of the most possible citizens. That works. That matters.

The 2016 election put that notion on its head. More than anything, it was about voters who find that kind of change intolerable. That doesn’t mean it’s not still happening. It’s just that Republicans are busy trying to delay the inevitable while Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats are already finding ways to make this country a place for all of us.

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