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Book Review: Madam Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Lessons of Power by Susan Page
Dr. Louis Perron - Political Consultant Dr. Louis Perron - Political Consultant
Monday, September 6, 2021


I just finished reading Madam Speaker: Nancy Pelosi and the Lessons of Power, a biography about Nancy Pelosi written by Susan Page. It's an extremely fascinating read that I would highly recommend.

As part of my consulting work, I have actually advised people who had served as speaker and in the congressional leadership in other countries, and it is often a difficult position to shine. While speakers are usually powerful in presidential systems, they rarely go on and become presidents themselves. In parliamentary systems, on the other hand, head of parliaments play a more ceremonial role.

But back to Susan Page's book. Nancy d'Allessandro grew up as the only daughter together with five brothers. So, she learned to speak up around men, which would later help her when challenging the Democratic leadership and presidents Clinton, Bush and, Trump. Her father was the Mayor of Baltimore, and the family home was sort of a campaign headquarters. According to Page, the family kept a so-called favor file, keeping track of each and every constituent they have helped. In other words, the future most powerful woman in U.S. politics grew up with political organizing.

After getting married, Pelosi gave birth to five children herself during the time span of six years. At the age of 47, she ran for public office for the first time, after her youngest daughter told her "to get a life."

When she became speaker for the first time, she was instrumental in passing the Affordable Health Care Act, which gave health insurance to millions of Americans. She paid a heavy prize for it: Republican candidates for the House across the country spent 65 million USD attacking her the following election cycle. It would buy them 161'203 attack ads against Pelosi. It makes her later comeback as speaker even more impressive.

Speaking about the lessons of power, Pelosi has been a master fundraiser from the beginning of her career until now. For her very first election campaign, she apparently raised twice as much money as all her opponents combined. Over the years, she has raised hundreds of millions of dollars for Democratic candidates and more than any other member of Congress in history.

As Page describes, she is also known to be a master in counting votes. Unlike other speakers, she does not bring up bills for a vote on the House floor unless she is sure to have the votes (and usually has some spare votes in her pocket). I suggest you keep that in mind next time there is talk about a rebellion within her caucus. If she brings it up for a vote, she is sure to have the votes.

My only critique of Susan Page's book is that the part about Pelosi's family roots are a little long compared to the later chapters about the coronavirus and the aftermath of last year's presidential election.

Next, I will be reading On the House by John Boehner. I will keep you posted on that one.

Dr. Louis Perron is a political scientist, consultant and TEDx speaker based in Switzerland. During the past years, he has helped two dozen candidates and parties win election and referendum campaigns.

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