The Georgetown University Institute of Politics and Public Service (GIPPS) hosted House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA 12th district) for a student town hall in Gaston Hall on April 24. In a wide-ranging talk moderated by GIPPS Executive Director and former Democratic National Committee (DNC) spokesperson Mo Elleithee, Pelosi set out the Democratic Party’s vision for America under the slogan “A Better Deal.” Elleithee framed the discussion as an opportunity for Pelosi to make the Democrats’ case to young voters.
Elleithee began with an anecdote about his time at the DNC, saying it became clear to him that voters did not know exactly what the Democratic Party stood for. He then asked Pelosi to explain what it means to be a Democrat. Pelosi situated the Democratic Party as the party of the future and said that she has witnessed a “schism of the soul, a schism of the body politic” in the starkly different visions the Democrats and Republicans hold for the country. She pointed to the federal budget, saying, “A statement of our national values should be where we put our resources.” Reading from a card about the Society of Jesus, Pelosi linked the Jesuit value of justice to the Democratic cause. She then pivoted to say that children are at the center of the party’s policies and goals.
“This better future is in contrast…to the raw deal that we believe the American people are getting,” Pelosi stated, specifically noting the tax overhaul law passed in December 2017 by Congressional Republicans and signed into law by President Donald Trump. She added, referencing Pope Benedict XVI’s first encyclical, God Is Love, “beware the dazzling blindness of money.” The minority leader, who has held the highest political office of any woman in the history of U.S. politics, has long been a proponent of a constitutional amendment to overturn the precedent set by the Supreme Court in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which held that corporations and unions could use money for political purposes as part of their First Amendment rights.
“Our government should be formed to promote that justice…economic justice, environmental justice, social justice, justice in every way,” Pelosi said in what would become the major theme of her talk. She called the Democratic Party a party of “values” and called on Georgetown students to be forward-looking.
“But the most important thing for everyone, whether Democrat or Republican, is to vote. If you don’t vote you really don’t count,” Pelosi added, continuing to say that young people’s failure to vote in the past has empowered organizations like the National Rifle Association and those climate science deniers to ignore compromise, conciliation, and moderation.
Her argument, that voter apathy leads to voter polarization and helps more extreme ideas come to the fore, is supported by research from political scientists. Elleithee cited polling data from the Harvard University Institute of Politics (IOP) that shows that just 37 percent of people ages 18 to 29 definitely plan to vote in the upcoming 2018 midterm election.
In a telling sign of the political polarization that grips Washington D.C. in deadlock today, Pelosi quipped, “wouldn’t we pine now to have George Bush—either one!—or John McCain [as president].” Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) have had a contentious relationship with Trump, trying to cut the occasional deal that invariably ended at an impasse. But, Pelosi—in response to IOP research showing 60 percent of millenials are fearful for the nation’s future—assured Elleithee and listening students that hope is vital because “elections are about the future.”
The minority leader was quick to say that big ideas are not enough to effect democratic change. She challenged Democrats to work to translate the ideals exemplified by movements like #MeToo, the Women’s March, and March for Our Lives into practical action. “Know your power, help shape what the agenda is, and vote, vote, vote.”