Monday, September 27, 2010

Washington Social Diary

Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner.
by Carol Joynt

It's up for voters to decide whether the skirmishes are silly or serious, but I wonder who’s in the less comfortable position right now: the woman who has the job of Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, with so many people ranting at her for one reason or another, or the man who wants to be Speaker of the House, Republican John Boehner, who has a lot of people in Washington gossiping quite madly about his private life, (and by private I don’t mean whether he collects stamps).

He’s just the most recent male politician to land in the nasty vat of allegations there’s a woman in the picture, not his wife, who may be a friend with benefits. Officially, Boehner has not commented.

The luncheon program.
Regardless, it is the silly and nasty last stretch before an election. This one is only the mid-term, which involves all House members, some of the Senate and an assortment of Governor and other state jobs – but control is at stake. If you think this is intense, wait till a breath after November 2, when the billion dollar presidential race begins, then we’ll see the varsity version of silly and nasty.

Second only to chatter about Boehner is debate about who will, in fact, have the power in the new Congress. It’s so close that no matter how much blather spews from TV pundits and op-ed columnists, honestly, no one here knows. It’s that close.

I carried these thoughts with me last week to a lunch for Nancy Pelosi. Once I arrived, though, and scanned the room packed with powerful and influential women, my mind drifted from the real to the unreal. I thought of the fictional character Peggy Olson of “Mad Men,” who today, if she were real, would be 71 years old, essentially the same age as Pelosi. They were born one year apart. If I could walk into Peggy’s world of 1963 and tell her that in due time there’d be women regularly elected to Congress and, in particular, a woman serving as Speaker of the House, she’d say, “Get outta here. You’re nuts.” But, then again, Peggy being Peggy, she could say, “Thank God. It makes so much sense.”

Watching a show like “Mad Men,” with its almost pitch perfect cultural portrayal of women – actually men, too – at the birth of “women’s lib” is a reminder of how much liberation we now take for granted.

Mad Men's Peggy Olson.
I watch the show and giggle at the ways in which it reminds me of what gender roles were like within the Time-Life Building, for example, where I worked circa 1972 – the year Ms. magazine was published elsewhere – and even earlier, when my then editor-in-chief posted a note on the office bulletin board with the happy news: “Henceforth women will be permitted to wear pants to the office, so long as they are part of an attractive pants suit.”

That’s Peggy’s world, and yes, young ones, in our lifetime there was a time like that, and Nancy Pelosi – married, mother of five, with a solid career – remembers it, too. At the luncheon she recalled the more recent past with poignancy, taking us back to January 2007, the first days after she became the 60th Speaker of the House, and the first woman in that role.

“When I went to the White House for my first meeting as leader I was apprehensive. I wasn't apprehensive about being there, because I'd been there many times. I was apprehensive because I realized it was unlike any meeting I'd been to before. It was the first time a woman would sit at that table in her own right, not appointed, but elected to represent the members.

“I bring it up today because just as (President) Bush welcomed me, and gracious always, as he moved toward the legislative agenda, I felt crowded on my chair. I realized sitting on that chair with me were all the women who had worked so hard to advance the rights of women. I could hear them say, ‘at last we have a seat at the table.’ My first thought was: I want more – more women, more diversity - at the table of power!”
The Alice Award Luncheon a guests began to take their seats.
A table setting.
Every seat had a swag bag.
Pelosi greets Peter and Judy Kovler, who helped to underwrite the luncheon.
Lindy Boggs, with her back to camera, Rita Braver, and Cokie (Boggs) Roberts.
At least she wasn’t apprehensive about any of the men at the White House table hitting on her. Men here don’t hit on power. They hit on vulnerability. People from outside Washington ask me, “don’t the women politicians screw around?” First of all, I don’t know. But, truthfully, I’ve never heard a thing. Well, some itty bitty things, but so discreet as to be impossible to turn into SCANDAL!! The men do SCANDAL!!

Perhaps, then, the solution is that more women need to come to Washington and assume power and thus reduce the numbers of scandals.
Luncheon co-chair Peggy Cifrino with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
Pelosi greets Lindy Boggs. Protege and mentor: Nancy Pelosi and Lindy Boggs.
Nancy Pelosi and her granddaughter, Bella.
Resting on the podium, text of remarks praising Nancy Pelosi.
Pelosi: For women in Congress, "there is work still to be done."
Nancy Pelosi with Dianne Lipsey, with her Alice Award from Tiffany's on the table.
The 2010 Alice Award presented to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
Lindy Boggs remembers back before women had real power in Washington. Now 94-years-old, she arrived at the lunch with her daughter, Cokie Roberts. Boggs was a pioneer in Congress, taking the Louisiana House seat that had belonged to her husband, Hale Boggs, after he was killed in a plane crash. That was 1973. She served until 1991, a span of time that saw everything change, as more and more women came to Congress, including the California 8th district’s Nancy Pelosi in 1987. Boggs was mentor to Pelosi and the two remain close today. “She includes my mother in everything,” Roberts said, who’s happy that after Katrina her mother moved from New Orleans back to Washington to be near the family and her many friends.

From the moment she arrived Pelosi kept Lindy Boggs by her side and they were seated at the same table. When Pelosi spoke, the mentor down in front looked up and beamed at her protégé on the stage.
The entry to the VIP reception.
Lindy Boggs with her daughter, Cokie Roberts. Page Harrington.
Debby McGinn and Peggi Cifrino, the gala luncheon co-chairs.
Heather White. Framing a good view.
Elizabeth Perry, Elisa Buono Glazer, Sally Duran, and Lani Hay.
Lucy Calautti and Heather Podesta.
Susan Toffler. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida.
Judy and Peter Kovler.
The luncheon was held under a white tent on the sunny rooftop of an office building so close to the Capitol that the iconic dome loomed. At ground level protesters, many of them in wheelchairs, politely clustered at every possible entrance, as well as across the street, chanting for Pelosi to support a particular piece of health care legislation. She’s probably accustomed to one kind of protest or another almost wherever she goes; as much as President Obama, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, she is the focus of rage from critics of Obama Administration policy, particularly the Tea Party faction. Face it, the Capitol building doesn’t need a lightning rod; it has Nancy Pelosi.

The protesters chants wafted up to the VIP reception on the 6th floor, and up to the rooftop luncheon, too, but the guests performed that marvelous Washington disconnect. Its not that they didn’t hear or care about the protestors, it’s just that the Washington establishment can compartmentalize brilliantly, and so as the protesters protested the guests carried on with canapés, white wine and conversation.
One of the main entrances to the luncheon, lined with polite but chanting protestors.
The view from inside the other main entrance, also surrounded by protestors.
View from the rooftop where the luncheon was held.
Enjoying the day and the view.
A message on the grass.
Protesters down below.
The Sewall-Belmont House & Museum bestowed upon Pelosi the 2010 Alice Award for, among other accomplishments, creating “new leadership opportunities for women,” particularly in Congress, where she “used her power to ensure that women’s voices are heard in key committees and on every issue central to American women and their families.”

Pelosi said, “Despite all the progress we've made, there is work still to be done. Nine decades after women became full partners at the ballot box, we still make up just 17 percent of both the House and Senate. We must keep fighting to elect more committed, passionate women leaders to public office.”

Peggy Olson would be on board for the struggle. Look at it this way: I know she’s not real, but she would be Nancy Pelosi’s contemporary. Who knows, if “Mad Men” lasts another umpteen years maybe Peggy will jump from advertising to politics and become the leader of Congress.
The swag, including chocolate, catalogues, a cork screw, magnet, pedometer and face cream.
Photographs by Carol Joynt. Carol is the host of The Q&A Cafe in Washington, D.C.

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