Sounding Off: Examining the legacy Nancy Pelosi will leave behind 

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Illustration by Kaitlyn Tran/The Daily Campus

 In light of Nancy Pelosi’s Nov. 17 announcement that she will not seek reelection to the Democratic House leadership, it’s a good time to take a look into the impact she’s had during her time in office. 

First off, I’d like to say that I am a huge proponent of not idolizing people, especially public servants. However, American history does tend to use the tenures of certain public figures as benchmarks denoting certain eras, and I would argue that Pelosi has a strong case for being one of those figures. She shouldn’t be deified, as no one should, but based both on the fact that she is the only woman ever to hold the speakership, and that she’s held a seat in the House for over 35 years, her impact on the American political environment is definitely significant. 

I would also argue that the end of her time in House leadership, and her eventual leaving of Congress altogether, is a good mark for the end of an era she has been very much involved in shaping. 

Similarly to Joe Biden, Pelosi has spent a long time in Washington, gotten many things done and generally hasn’t strayed too far from the center. One example of her commitment to centricity is her involvement with the Congressional Progressive Caucus, of which she was a founding member. Generally, this group comprises mostly Democrats that are on the left end of the party’s spectrum, and Pelosi left after her election to party leadership. In order to get more votes, it is advantageous to not align with more extreme groups, and in return, this centrism can keep someone in power for a long time. 

A consequence of being able to keep power for a long time is that one may grow old in their position, a fact that absolutely applies to both Pelosi and Biden, for that matter. Representatives with less generally accepted views either end up getting voted out of the office they’re in, or at least aren’t able to secure national leadership, which leaves a lot of centrists on the older side in charge of their respective parties.  

Currently, there are 21 members of Congress (seven in the Senate, 14 in the House) that are 80-years-old or older. Also, President Biden, a previous member of the Senate for over three decades, turned 80 earlier this year. Conversely, there are 29 members of Congress that are under the age of 40, with only one of those being in the Senate. That’s a little more than 5% of the entire body, which has 535 seats in total. If Congress is supposed to be a representative body, it should represent its age groups more proportionally, as in 2020, according to CNN, “166 million Americans under the age of 40 – millennials, Gen Z and younger generations – make up 50.7% of the population, as of July 2019.” 

Coming back to Speaker Pelosi, she truly is leaving behind a resume that’s hard to compare with as she steps back from the helm of the House Democrats. In addition to being the only woman to hold the position she currently occupies, she’s been instrumental in major Democratic wins like the passing of the Affordable Care Act, while also reaching across the aisle at times to get relief for Americans in times of crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic. One final positive thing I think she could add to her resume is this — stepping away from her post on her own terms. 

In order to gain votes from within her own party for election to the speakership in 2019, Pelosi promised to not stay in the position past January 2023. Now, the time has come for that promise to come due, and she has kept her word. Hopefully, other officials in similar positions to her will one day follow suit, or those who come into such a position later on down the road. It’s not all that’s needed, but the tradition of political power players staying in office as long as physically possible is not a good thing for this country. It’s not representative of the demographics of the U.S., and it leads to a lot of ‘survivalist centrism,’ as I’ll call it. 

What comes next is to watch and see what the rest of the older class of Congresspeople will choose to do with the ends of their careers, and to also see what Pelosi herself does. Just because she’ll be out of House leadership does not mean she’ll stop running for her seat, but for all of these things to look out for, all we can do is wait. 

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