By Basil L. Merenda
Back in 2007 when Nancy Pelosi was first elected Speaker of the House, my mom, a lifelong Pennsylvanian and an active citizen and voter from her high school days, said to me, “Isn’t it wonderful that we now have the first woman to serve as Speaker of the House,” and then she went on to proudly say, “And she is an Italian-American grandmother like me.”
Simply put, Italian-American grandmothers, like Nancy Pelosi, are the smartest, wisest, strongest, most generous, toughest, compassionate, shrewdest and kindest people I have ever known, and our country benefited immensely from her two consequential speakerships, first from 2007 to 2011, and then from 2019 to 2023.
In her first speakership, Pelosi utilized those traits and characteristics to improve the everyday lives of every person. Most notably, under her leadership, the Affordable Care Act passed. Better known as Obamacare, it provided all Americans with access to health care and fulfilled President Truman’s 1948 promise to provide health care for every citizen.
Also, during her first tenure, the Congress with her at the helm passed Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act and the Consumer Protection Act, which pulled the reins in on high-flying Wall Street speculation and the deregulation, neoliberal economic policy known as Reaganonomics of the last 40 years that caused a global financial meltdown and the Great Recession, which wreaked havoc on working folks.
In her second speakership, Nancy Pelosi, the Italian grandmother, had her hands full. She focused on pandemic relief in the CARES Act to make sure that we as a country would be able to withstand this awful COVID crisis, and that working folks would have the aid and resources needed to come through in one piece and withstand the pandemic shutdown and its fallout.
Then with President Biden, Speaker Pelosi was again able to positively impact the daily lives of every American by passing the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which will finally address a laundry list of neglected issues – ruinous roads and bridges, broadband access, electrical grid, climate change and clean water – creating in the process millions of good-paying jobs right here in America.
The toughness of the first Italian-American grandmother Speaker came through on a variety of fronts. First, she stood up to George W. Bush’s attempt to privatize Social Security and turn it over to Wall Street financiers and, then, she opposed China’s brutal crackdown on political dissent and, thereafter, stood up for democratic values here in our country during the Jan. 6 insurrection.
Perhaps, Speaker Pelosi’s finest hour was on full display in the behind-the-scenes footage of legislative leaders aired by the Jan. 6 Committee during the day’s insurrection. She kept her cool, made specific requests to authorities to restore order, and knew what had to be done to resume the Electoral College vote and defend the Constitution from a violent mob determined to stage a coup and overturn it.
My mom, whose political and civic interest was awakened when then-first lady Eleanor Roosevelt spoke at her high school graduation commencement from South Philadelphia High School in January 1941, passed away in 2017 at 94.
If my mom were here to witness the conclusion of Nancy Pelosi’s time as Speaker of the House, I know that she would have proudly said: Now the world knows that an Italian-American grandmother can nurture and protect an entire nation, as well as her own family.
Bravo, nonna Nancy, for a job well done.