Fancy Nancy

That's a pretty amazing photograph of Speaker Nancy Pelosi on the cover of the May/June issue of Capitol File magazine. I saw it linked on The Drudge Report and didn't even recognize her. The change is nothing short of remarkable.

At first I thought that one of her "image" handlers had goofed. In an effort to polish her up, they had gotten carried away and knocked off too many years. This picture's puffery went so far that it nearly amounts to the roll-out of a new product that the public hasn't seen, like the Apple iPad. But Nancy Pelosi is not new to the scene. 

In marketing and advertising, certain procedures are followed when the time comes to remake a person or product's public image. Media-savvy consultants don't just spring it on the public out of the blue.

Simply explained, a rebuild is done in phases and measured steps. The hair is allowed to be shown progressively grayer; the words "sugar sweetened" get smaller on the box and the word "Natural" gets larger; the suit gives way to a sport coat, then to a sweater. The tee shirt and sandals come last.

It may actually be, if we could measure it, that the photo's impact on the general public is not one of positive approval, but of stunned amazement. John and Jane Doe, fed up with taxes, unemployment, and Washington double-think, recognize this for what it is -- political spin. We all know Nancy Pelosi has been around the block a few times and has had some "work" done. So whom do they think they are kidding? Another new "do" and some pictures are not going to improve her numbers with the public. 

Having been involved in this sort of thing, I look at Speaker Pelosi's new photo and see the lights, the silks, the scrims, the makeup artist, wardrobe stylist, the security officers shooing tourists away (if, indeed, this was really shot on location). I see the staffers, the twenty-somethings on cell phones back to the office, and the personal assistant sent to fetch some Fiji Water -- in a glass with ice, not in the bottle. I see the photographer walking on eggshells trying to get the Speaker to look this way or that, to smile -- but not too broadly -- and the crew banging off dozens of high-res images before for a long session of Photoshop-by-committee. All of this fuss in quest of a vanity portrait that was never destined for the cover of The Rolling Stone, but a stuffy inside-the-beltway equivalent of Cincinnati Magazine.

However, now that I think about it, this picture is more than a vanity portrait. It is a tool intended to send a message to a specific audience. 

Capitol File magazine's primary circulation area is Washington, D.C. The audience is very select. This cover photo is so outlandish in its visual flattery that it can be seen only as a warning directed to the lobbyists and vendors and supplicants who travel to our nation's capital. It communicates to them that Nancy Pelosi can command how others should see her -- as Our Glorious Speaker, and you'd better not laugh or you'll be on the next plane back to Palookaville. Gone are the wild eyes. Gone are the grasping facial expressions.  Gone is any hint that she habitually accuses Tea Partiers or others who challenge her of being "violent" and "Nazis".

For the next two months, Capitol File magazine will sit on coffee tables in reception areas throughout Washington. All the people who are not insiders, who have to wait, who are not whisked past the desk directly through to meetings, will sit in lobbies and see Nancy Pelosi's picture smiling at them from the coffee table as if there's nothing wrong. 

Nancy Pelosi's cover portrait is not designed to fool anyone into believing that she is younger, kinder, or gentler than she really is. We all know the truth in that matter.

The picture is there to let people know who is in charge.

Jed Skillman photographed hundreds of political television commercials, first for one party and then for the other, over a twenty-year span. He blogs at
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