Pelosi: Right to Pass on Hastings, Wrong to Pass Over Harman

Nancy Pelosi did the right thing in telling Florida Rep. Alcee Hastings that he wasn’t going to get the job as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

A guy who, as a judge, was almost unanimously impeached by his colleagues in the House for being willing to sell justice-- as no less a liberal than John Conyers, the floor manager against him, put it-- is not the right person for the Democrats’ new direction.

Conservatives would have eaten him, and us, for lunch, and I don’t blame them. A panel of Court of Appeals judges found that he lied 15 times in the criminal trial he so loudly cites where he was aquitted. It was after that aquittal that Congress impeached and convicted him.

That was only 1989.

Passing over Hastings wasn’t hard, or it shouldn’t have been, and dare I even ask why it was? The only right answer was no. The Black Caucus had to know that. Nancy Pelosi must have known that. As a judge, Hastings was willing to reduce the sentence of a defendant he thought was a gangster in exchange for money, for Goodness sakes.

Passing over Jane Harman, the top ranking Democrat on the committee, was another matter. The first woman Speaker should not pass over a woman for a key committee chairmanship. It doesn’t just look bad. It is bad. It is the reason that the women’s movement hasn’t worked.

The problem isn’t just that women don’t help each other. It’s that they sometimes are the ones who hurt each other most. Our own worst enemies...

Since I wrote last week about Pelosi and Harman, I’ve heard plenty of stories from people, not about Congress, not about Nancy and Jane, but about regular people, smart women, ambitious women, women trying to make it, who have found their way blocked by other women.

And there’s always some reason given, they’re too tough, too this, too that, but the fact is that it’s a woman passing over a woman for a man, surrounding herself with men, closing the door a few inches rather than opening it further.

Say it ain’t so, Nancy.

It doesn’t just happen at the very top. It is something both familiar and unspoken; we don’t talk about it, but we’ve all been there, or know someone who has.

My young women law students tell me that they look for men as mentors. Men, they explain, have no reason to resent them. The problem is that many men would rather mentor someone they have more in common with-- like another man.

This is not what was supposed to happen. What was supposed to happen was that the first generation of extraordinary women, the Nancy Pelosi’s of the world, would crash through the cement ceilings and open the doors to enough women to change the rules for those who came next. Women would mentor other women, support each other.

What women hoped Nancy Pelosi and her ilk would do was not only appoint the Jane Harman’s who were in line by seniority, but consider overriding seniority altogether to get more of the newly elected women into positions of power.

What difference does it make if you have women at the table if they don’t exercise their clout as women?

No one has been more supportive of CBS news woman Katie Couric’s efforts than I, until my friend Margot sent me the clip about women on the staff receiving 40 percent fewer assignments since she took over.

Gulp. Could it be true?

On election night, I know, she had more women on than any one else, but I don’t count every night. Is she a force for change, or just a pretty face?

Nancy Pelosi would no doubt say that her first responsibility to women is to succeed as Speaker. But what does success mean? If promoting women isn’t part of the answer, why should women particularly care?

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Susan Estrich is currently the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California and a member of the Board of Contributors of USA Today. She writes the "Portia" column for American Lawyer Media and is a contributing editor of The Los Angeles Times. She was appointed by the president to serve on the National Holocaust Council and by the mayor of the City of Los Angeles to serve on that city's Ethics Commission.

Estrich's books include the just published "Soulless," "Real Rape," "Getting Away with Murder: How Politics Is Destroying the Criminal Justice System," "Dealing with Dangerous Offenders," "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women" and "Sex & Power," currently a Los Angeles Times bestseller.

She served as campaign manager for Michael Dukakis' presidential bid, becoming the first woman to head a U.S. presidential campaign. Estrich appears regularly on the FOX News Channel.

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