I wonder if she had said the same if this interview was held today, or something more on the line of Sally Quinn's comments?
Women in Government
LHJ: You wrote the foreword for the upcoming book about the Sanchez sisters, Dream in Color. Aside from them, who do you see as the rising female stars in Congress; who do you think may be suited to follow in your footsteps?
NP: I think that we have a wealth of young women, and this is really part of my responsibility as I see it -- to attract many more women to Congress, and especially young women, because it's important for women to come into Congress when they are young . That way -- and this applies in every field -- they can build their seniority and be in a place to spring into great power at the same age that men are able to. There shouldn't be a power gap just because, say, women are home raising their children, as it was in my case. I stayed home with my children until they were grown, and that was fine for me, but it's a different era now. In this new era it's important for me to be a voice for their generation, to be a voice for working young women, in the Congress of the United States. That's very important. So I've made it a special mission to encourage that, and to that end -- well, if I start naming names and I don't name everyone that will be a problem. [Laughs] I'm very proud of the number of young women who are here, raising their families, raising those issues on the House floor, and building their seniority. Anything is possible for them -- leadership in this Congress, leadership in their states, leadership even regarding who could be the next president. Well, not next, but a future president.
LHJ: You are a mother of five and were a homemaker for many years before entering politics. You say in your book that the skills you honed doing those things were the same ones you needed when you got to Congress. How so?
NP: Absolutely, and this is what I want women to know, so they recognize the value of their own path, their unique experience. I've been in politics a while, over 20 years in the Congress of the United States, and this is a very rough-and-tumble.... I shouldn't say 'rough,' let me say a very challenging arena to be in. But as challenging as it is, nothing is as challenging as raising a family -- nothing. That experience forced me to be disciplined, diplomatic, focused, and successful, and I brought that discipline and focus to the Congress. Also, having a family keeps you focused on the future, which is the biggest inspiration in politics. In order to do what it takes to succeed in politics, you have to be inspired by your constituents, the power of your ideas, and the fact that you speak on behalf of children and their future, whether you have children of your own or not. It makes all the difference in the world.
LHJ: One of my favorite anecdotes about the 2006 midterms was, you were expecting a grandchild at that time, and the President called with his congratulations, and when you were notified there was a phone call for you, you said "Oh, does this mean the baby's born?"
NP: The phone rang very early in the morning, before 7:00 -- well, that's not that early, but maybe a bit early to get a phone call -- so I picked it up and said 'Oh my, do we have a new baby?' And they said, "No, this is the President calling."
Work and Family
LHJ: Women since the dawn of time have struggled to balance their careers with their families. What advice would you give to women who are trying to achieve that very elusive balance? Do you think it's possible?
NP: Yes, I think it is, and what I tell women is, you are doing the best you can, even if it's not the best you know how. You can't control every aspect, so don't worry about not measuring up. Just know that it's the best you can do, and know that if you succeed in being a mother, you can succeed in any arena. There's nothing to compare it to. And I always say know your power. That's how I got the title for my book. Mothers have so much power. They have the power to make a difference in the lives of these little people they're raising, and the power to make a difference in the world in which they will grow up and then live. That's a key message of my book. I want women to recognize the value of their unique experience. And in Congress, I've made it my special mission to be a voice for young working women.
The New Feminism
LHJ: What are your thoughts about the fact that the term "feminism" is falling out of favor with many young women? They feel that they personally have not been discriminated against in their personal lives or at the workplace, so they feel it's no longer relevant.
NP: Well, you know, this is the normal evolution of society, and good for them that they have not felt that. I don't think anyone would say, well, I don't want them to enjoy the benefits of feminism unless they accept the term. I don't think anybody's advocating that. But I do think that we have some obstacles to overcome yet. We just don't have enough women in positions of power, whether it's political power, corporate power, academic power....
The Elusive Presidency
LHJ: Do you think there's something in particular about American society that somehow we have a "block" when it comes to having a female president? More seemingly "sexist" cultures -- for instance, Pakistan, India, Liberia, Chile -- have all had female heads of state, and we still have not managed to get one here.
NP: I think that we will, and Hillary Clinton's campaign bodes well for our country. She was accepted as a contender -- not merely accepted, she established herself as a contender -- right up until the end with her eloquence, with her knowledge, with her stamina. She showed that any woman can make that fight. It turned out that she did not prevail, but she could have, and so I think the path has really been paved, the opportunity has been established. And anyone who cares about women in power and a woman in the White House owes a great deal of gratitude to Hillary Clinton for her courage in going forward in the manner in which she did, for the strength with which she proceeded and success that she had. I think she showed that a woman can win the White House. It was a close call in the end. And I don't think there was anybody who thought that she couldn't win and that she wouldn't be a great president. I'm very excited about her candidacy. There are those who will do the postmortems on why she -- sorry, not the postmortems; here we call it an "after-action review" -- about what could have been done differently, but there were some things on which we can all agree: It had nothing to do with whether the American people were ready to accept a woman.
Encouragement for All Women
LHJ: And you don't think those criticisms were particularly because she was a woman?
NP: Well, I mean, you call attention to someone and people pay attention, they notice. Now, is there sexism in the media? Well, yes -- I experience it all the time, but I don't think it makes the difference as to whether you're going to win or not. To take a different tack, I think the people who acted in a sexist way were the losers in all of this. I don't think they looked good at all; it looked like yesterday and just ... silly. I mean, my children have said to me, "Mother, if you had any idea what people say about you." And you know what? I don't care! I've done what I've set out to do. I know that the right-wing media sets out to caricature me, but if you decide to worry about that, then you might as well just pick up another line of work. They have their say and you have yours, and at the end of the day, we won. But in terms of the presidential race, women have to view this as very positive. The respect and admiration for Hillary Clinton in this country has, I believe, increased, and been enhanced by this race. And that's important not only for her but for any woman who sets out on a path to do something new. And it should be a source of encouragement to all women.
Originally published on LHJ.com, August 2008. Link, here.