Times change, norms change, politicians with different standards come and go, and it’s all for the better, except maybe not, especially when you are talking about two Democratic speakers of the U.S. House of Representatives. They’re interesting comparisons, Sam Rayburn of years ago and Nancy Pelosi of today, and maybe what’s different about them gives us insight into our own times.
Known by friends as “Mr. Sam,” Rayburn was raised in meager circumstances on a Texas cotton farm and decided as a boy that he wanted to be a politician. He started out as a teacher, became a state legislator, got a law degree and turned up as a representative in Washington in 1913, hanging around until 1961.
Despite a couple of interruptions, he was speaker for 17 years, a record, and that was no accident. He stayed mostly behind the scenes, working politely and persuasively with others, mastered the content of just about every bill and found ways to get hugely important things done, such as supplying electricity to rural America.
He was around for two world wars and was a New Deal enthusiast, especially worried about the poor. Even though his father was a Confederate cavalryman, he evolved into a civil rights advocate. He wouldn’t take a nickel from anybody for anything. While a state legislator, he was also a member of a law firm that represented a railroad paying handsome fees. The legislature dealt with railroad issues, and even though there was no legal impediment, Rayburn said no fee for me, please.
When he died, he had $15,000 in the bank.
Pelosi, whose father was a congressman and mayor of Baltimore, climbed her way up in San Francisco politics, made it to the House and became its first woman speaker. She has always been outspoken on the issues, has been an unbeatable fundraiser and has played an important role in the passage of such legislation as Obamacare.
This year, she became speaker again, and every now and then has seemed lost in her leadership, still a liberal, ad hominem dogmatist but unclear on whether to keep House procedures reasonable or mystifying to some of us observers. No worthy guidance came from the youthful, irrational rebels in her changing party, but she is now tightly bound with them on the goal of impeaching President Donald Trump. She has worn a coat of righteousness in saying, for instance, that Trump belongs in prison, but her righteousness seems a bad fit.
By way of example, let’s go back to 2008 when the House was considering a popular bill that would stop Visa from charging vendors swipe fees and bringing home stacks of moolah. Pelosi was speaker of the House then and exempt from laws prohibiting insider trading, and her husband got a chance to buy Visa stocks in an initial public offering, making quite a bit of money over time. A Visa political action committee gave Nancy Pelosi $1,000 to help her re-election. She had a meeting with Visa executives. The bill did not make it to a vote and was in fact stalled for two years.
The stock purchase was examined by various news outlets, including “60 Minutes,” and Pelosi has said she was always on the side of consumers. Once, when asked about some of this at a news conference, she cut the questioner short, saying, “It’s not true and that’s that.” She has now suggested that Trump testify before the Democratic-directed impeachment hearings, and he might consider saying the same thing.
Pelosi’s husband has been highly successful in the real estate and venture capital business, and the two have had maybe eight adventures in initial public offerings, it is reported.
Their worth is estimated at $29 million.
Jay Ambrose is an opinion columnist for Tribune News Service. Readers may e-mail him at email@example.com.