05 Apr 2006

Road to Serfdom, Pelosi-Style

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Mayor Thomas D’Alesandro, Jr. in backseat of car with daughter Nancy and wife Nancy. Photo from 1948. Courtesy of the D’Alesandro family via the Baltimore Sun.

When the democrats retake the majority of the House of Representatives, San Francisco’s own Nancy Pelosi will be Speaker.

Last Sunday’s Chronicle‘s puff piece describes Nancy Pelosi’s carefully constructed network of political obligation, inadvertently revealing the essence of how it’s all supposed to work:

Pelosi’s prowess for building this type of political power stretches back to the dynasty built by her father at a time when political capital came in the form of favors, not campaign cash.

Her father, Tommy D’Alesandro Jr., was a New Deal Democrat who served five terms in Congress and three as mayor of Baltimore. He enlisted his seven children in building the “favor file” that served as the core of his political machine.

Neighbors who were short on food, out of work or otherwise down on their luck would knock on the door at all hours, and whoever’s turn it was to staff the front office would help them find food, work or whatever they needed.

“During the leaner years, we had in our back room the equivalent of a soup kitchen,” said Pelosi’s brother, Tommy D’Alesandro III, who also eventually served a term as Baltimore mayor. “It was dealing with human nature in the raw. Any kind of problem, we were there.”

Family members would note the name of the constituent and the services rendered on yellow legal paper to be transferred to the favor file, a box of index cards.

The cards were pulled into service when it was time to organize for the next election.

Recalled D’Alesandro: “We’d call people up and say, ‘Mrs. So-and-So, we did this favor for you and now my father is running for re-election. We’d like to borrow your car to get people out to vote’ or ‘you can come lick stamps’ or ‘you can organize a coffee klatch.’ ”

Fifty years later, Pelosi’s staff keeps her modern day equivalent of the favor file in a political data base program in the headquarters of the Democratic Congressional Committee. It’s a list of 29,432 loyal donors that Pelosi has built one personal contact at a time.

This is the democrat model for life in America. Nancy Pelosi lives in the grand mansion atop Pacific Heights, and the rest of us come, desperate and hat in hand, to the back door, begging for a job, a favor, or maybe for just a meal. Lady Bountiful Pelosi comes to the door, graciously dispenses to us our alms, and our names are duly recorded in the great card file. Now we owe our livelihood, our personal independence, our vote, unspecified other future services to be arranged, and possibly our immortal souls, to the party machine. Nancy Pelosi is royalty. The rest of us are serfs.


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