All I knew about Nancy Pelosi before today was that she has been in Congress a long time and is now Speaker of the House of Representatives.
I also knew she is caricatured as too powerful or as power-hungry in political cartoons and in right-wing emails circulating on the internet. (My Republican uncle sometimes forwards these emails to me.)
Here are the top ten things I learned today about her:
1) Her real name is Annunciata--she's nicknamed Nancy. She was named for her mother, who was born on March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation to Mary of her destiny to bear God's child.
2) She's the mother of four daughters and one son, and she's very supportive of women choosing to stay home and raise a family, as she did. She also has seven grandchildren.
3) She didn't run for Congress until she was 47 years old, when her friend Congresswoman Sala Burton was dying of cancer and asked her to run for her seat.
4) She grew up in an Italian neighborhood of Baltimore, Maryland. Her father, Thomas D'Alesandro Jr., was a representative to Congress and later mayor of Baltimore. Her brother Tom was also mayor of Baltimore.
5) She describes herself as a "devout, practicing Catholic" and was raised in a family that was both devout and staunchly Democratic.
6) She sat next to John F. Kennedy in 1957 when she was 16 and he was a guest speaker at a dinner sponsored by the UN Association of Maryland. (Her mother, wife of the mayor of Baltimore, stayed home to allow her daughter to attend in her place.)
7) She left the March on Washington in 1963 just before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke--because she needed to go to Baltimore to welcome her in-laws arriving for her wedding a few days later.
8) She's 69 now (born March 26, 1940) --but looks 50 years old (hair coloring, trim weight, probably also facelifts to remove wrinkles).
9) Because she's short, she wears very high-heeled shoes. Tonight they were also spike-heeled with pointy toes--the kind my daughters wear when they go out to clubs. I couldn't even walk in such shoes without falling down, but Nancy Pelosi at 69 walks around in them with speed and grace.
10) She has been described as "probably one of the strongest and most effective Speakers in decades." She expects to get a universal health-care bill passed in the House and Senate this year and signed by President Obama.
She says the biggest issue is where there will be a "public option" in this bill--or whether all the health care providers will be in the private sector. "That's what we're fighting for. It has to happen this year. I think it will."
She thinks it will pass because "Health care reform is entitlement reform." If people had more access to preventive health care, there would be less cost to Medicare and Medicaid.
She says health care reform is needed:
1) for individual people,
2) for businesses, which are burdened with increasing health care cost,
3) for our economy, which is distorted by the existing system--competing with businesses in the rest of the world that do not have the expense of health care, and
4) for reducing the national debt by cutting the cost of entitlement programs.