BROOKE GLADSTONE: From WNYC in New York, this is NPR's On the Media. Bob Garfield is away this week. I'm Brooke Gladstone. Yep, the Democrats swept the midterm elections, and as the dust settles, talking points will be refined to suit the new realities in Washington, and political narratives will have to be rewritten. One of those politicians due for a rewrite – House Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi.
REPORTER: Well, we have the first woman Speaker in the history of the United States, Nancy Pelosi.[OVERLAPPING AUDIO] She is now in line to the succession of the, right behind -
REPORTER: - that no Congress has had in the 218-year history of the American legislature – a female Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi. [OVERLAPPING VOICES]
REPORTER: The first woman ever to hold that responsibility. [CHEERS]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Ed Epstein has been covering Nancy Pelosi for nearly two decades. He joins us now from the Washington Bureau of The San Francisco Chronicle. Ed, welcome to the show.
ED EPSTEIN: Thank you for having me.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:So you've covered Pelosi for a long, long time, and you've no doubt gotten past all of the labels by now. But the world is discovering her anew. And I loved this lead from Toronto's Globe and Mail. It went, "Nancy Pelosi, a fiery, liberal, mother-of-five millionaire [ED EPSTEIN LAUGHS] is on a mission." Now, that's got to be a record.
ED EPSTEIN:[LAUGHS] It's all true. [LAUGHTER] She is a San Francisco liberal. She's proud of it. But as Speaker of the House, I don't think she'll be so liberal at all.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Is it safe to say that demonizing Nancy Pelosi was part of the Republican campaign strategy?
ED EPSTEIN:It was a key part of the strategy, and it became more so as the campaign developed and the Republicans saw they were behind, so they increasingly turned to Pelosi as a foil. Their commercials that you saw on TV and radio in many of the key races talked about "San Francisco liberal," "San Francisco values".
And then there was one commercial run by Congressman John Hostettler in Indiana that talked about the "homosexual agenda" that San Francisco's Nancy Pelosi was going to advance in the Congress with Congressman Barney Frank.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Bill O'Reilly of Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor says he coined the term "San Francisco values."
BILL O'REILLY:But back to San Francisco values, as listed in my book, Culture Warrior. Here they are. Cradle-to-grave entitlements for the poor, with a punishing tax rate to pay for them. Legalized drugs. Unfettered abortion rights. No parental notification for minors having abortions, and rehab, not punishment, for many dangerous criminals. No restrictions on the Southern border. San Francisco welcomes all illegal aliens. An anti-Christian attitude. Remember last March? The supervisors condemned a rally by a conservative Christian youth group – kids. The supervisors called it anti-gay and anti-choice. But the city apparently is comfortable with militant gays dressing up as nuns in a public parade and mocking said nuns. No proclamation condemning that. This is just a few of the "values" San Franciscans embrace in their secular progressive paradise.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Well? [LAUGHTER]
ED EPSTEIN:Well, at least he spells out what he believes San Francisco values mean. But a lot of those things have nothing to do with Nancy Pelosi. She has little or nothing to do with local politics. She is considered a moderate in San Francisco political terms, but still he can use that as an attack on her. That is the image San Francisco has to deal with.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Now, how has she tried to counter this image as a way-out lefty?
ED EPSTEIN:I think her advisors told her to appear warmer, more welcoming. And so she refers to herself now as the mother of five and the grandmother of five, soon-to- be-six. She says, when I want to talk to my caucus and give them an order, I use my mother-of-five voice.
REPORTER:It was a busy day for Nancy Pelosi – a meeting with Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, a press conference where a technical glitch didn't slow her down.
NANCY PELOSI:I'm not in charge of the technical arrangements. But I could use my mother—of-five voice. [LAUGHS] [LAUGHTER]
REPORTER:Later, in an interview -
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Fox News Channel has spent months being very tough on her, but - their panel of pundits on election night became substantially more — gracious.
ED EPSTEIN:Well, she's in power now. They want the access to power, right? [LAUGHS] But also, you know, she's new. She's news. She's going to be a celebrity for at least the next few months. It is a historic moment for women, and I think the media will reflect that.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:As conservative pundits and politicians soften their attacks on Pelosi, go a little lighter, will they also go lighter on San Francisco?
ED EPSTEIN:No. [BROOKE LAUGHS] San Francisco is the perfect foil. And I asked the San Francisco Convention and Visitor's Bureau if all these attacks on San Francisco were in any way harmful, and the director of it said, oh, no - they keep showing images of San Francisco, the cable cars, the hills, the Golden Gate Bridge. We can't buy publicity like this. It's tremendous. We're having a record year for tourism and conventions. Keep it up.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Thanks a lot, Ed.
ED EPSTEIN:Thank you for having me.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Ed Epstein writes from the Washington Bureau of The San Francisco Chronicle.