Opinion | Americans will never forget Nancy Pelosi’s legacy


AP Photo/Susan Walsh

Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and her husband Paul Pelosi walk on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2023.

By Paul Beer, Staff Columnist

Nancy Pelosi’s approval skewed heavily into both extremes by the end of her tenure in December 2022 — 41% rated her somewhat or very favorable while 48% rated her somewhat or very unfavorable. Though this may just represent the partisan divide that has engulfed American politics, it’s clear that Pelosi is one of the most controversial politicians in America. After 20 years of leading the Democratic Party, Pelosi has finally stepped down to let a new generation take hold. 

Opposition from the right and even the left may see Pelosi as another cog in the machine of politics — which is a valid critique — but her legacy is far more. Pelosi’s accomplishments in the legislature and beyond, including her social justice work, solidifies her place as one of the greatest speakers of the modern era. 

Pelosi has represented numerous California districts covering the San Francisco area for 35 years. She rose quickly and became the Democratic Whip, eventually becoming the face of the Democratic Party after 9/11. In 2007, she became the first female Speaker of the House, and returned in 2019. The notion of “breaking the glass ceiling” is what makes Pelosi so important — her presence as a strong female leader in a predominantly male governing body will always go understated. 

When Pelosi first became speaker, Democrats had elected 52 women to the House. As she leaves, there are 91. In the same time, Republicans have only elected about six more women to the House. Through Pelosi’s strong leadership and commitment to female politicians across the nation, representation seems stronger than ever. 

Her achievements as a legislator are often credited to the men of the time. Even though Obamacare is touted as the namesake’s accomplishment, Pelosi was paramount to its success. Contentiously, she caved on protecting abortion rights in the bill to convince her more conservative Democratic colleagues. Though this is a clear point of criticism, the Affordable Care Act would not exist today had this deal not occurred. This monumental piece of legislation is still the closest America has gotten to universal healthcare. Through countless other bills that led the American people through the Great Recession, the Iraq War and the presidencies of Trump and Biden, Pelosi has cemented herself as the key piece to the puzzle. 

Separately from legislative leadership, Pelosi is one of the strongest, most daring American supporters of human rights abroad, even risking her own life. In summer 2022, she embarked on one of the most dangerous trips a speaker has ever taken, flying into Taiwan to protest the brutal treatment of the island. Despite threats to shoot down her plane by the Chinese military, Pelosi landed safely and met with Taiwanese leaders, to overwhelming praise. The 82-year-old woman from America had just committed the largest ideological blow to China in recent history. 

In 1991, two years after the massacre at Tiananmen Square, she and other Democratic colleagues held banners in the square honoring the victims and everyone in China fighting for freedom. Pelosi is a great example of the ageist critique failing, too. Her age has never been a barrier to her humanitarian and legislative goals.

Finally, Pelosi is one of the most driven politicians in talking about the Jan. 6 insurrection. As a key leader in protecting every member of Congress and former Vice President Mike Pence on the day of the attack, Pelosi found herself as the one rational figure in the room at all times. Hilariously, she will always stand up to Trump, stating then, “I want to punch him out.” She also led the charge on impeaching him twice — important despite its mostly symbolic outcome. 

It seems now that she is one of the few people left who want to keep talking about Jan. 6. In the lead up to the Speaker of the House vote under the new Republican majority, Pelosi rebutted McCarthy for calling the recent omnibus bill “one of the most shameful acts,” reminding him about the Jan. 6 insurrection. With the wrap-up of the Congressional hearings on the matter, Pelosi will continue to remind us as often as we need to hear it, what exactly happened that day. 

Critiques and criticisms of Pelosi are fervent, and many will always remain valid. Some of these may be toward her role as a legislator, when Pelosi had frequently caved to the more moderate members of her party to keep legislation moving. And despite being a champion for abortion rights, she and every Democrat failed to protect it before the Supreme Court’s overruling of Roe v. Wade. Also, Pelosi and her husband Paul are accused of insider stock trading. These shady deals and oversights are very much worthy of criticism. 

No politician is perfect, and none will ever be, but Pelosi is one of the most effective Speakers of the House in modern history. 

Paul Beer writes about political affairs and reads too many album reviews. Write back to him (or send music recommendations) at [email protected].