Monday, December 14, 2009

American Women at the End of 2009

What a year it has been, and not just for women in general or in the business world in particular. If we look for THE story of the year, the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States must be among the most prominent ones to choose from.

But this is a woman’s blog, and, in the spirit of the season, when everyone is proclaiming “The Man (or Person) of the Year”, I have chosen four women to highlight here. All dwell in or near the house of politics; two are admirable, the other two belong in the category I would call “The Ditherers, the Self-Servers and the Beholden”.

The woman at the top of my list of Admirable Women of 2009 is Michelle Obama. Without her, I have no doubt, we would not today have the president we do have. And, much as I would have liked seeing a woman in the White House in the number one spot, I think the current president is the best for our time. More though, Mrs. Obama’s life, far more than her husband’s, tells the American story at the beginning of the 21st century. Descendent from African slaves in the American south, her family tree includes a white slave owner; migration to the north brought the family opportunities not available in the south and a slave’s great-granddaughter is now the First Lady of the United States. That’s got to impress everyone who pays attention to American social history.

My second woman on this list is Senator Olympia Snow (R. Maine).

It is shameful that the United States does not have universal health care for its citizens. It is shameful that the Republicans in Congress are en bloc opposed to providing universal health care; Senator Snow is to be applauded for at least trying. Whatever bill comes out of Congress in the coming weeks, it will fall woefully short and is likely not to please anyone (except “the special interests”) and there is plenty of shame to spread around. But at least Senator Snow, as the sole Republican, tried.

And that brings me to my two least admired women of 2009: Senators Mary Landrieu (D. Louisiana) and Blanche Lincoln (D. Arkansas), both of whom have spoken out against the bill currently being considered in Congress. Why do they hold this position? Louisiana and Arkansas are among the poorest states in the country. I don’t think I am going too far out on a limb when I say that every day someone dies in these states as a result of inadequate health care accessibility.

Ms. Landrieu, according to Open Secrets, has sponsored or co-sponsored 190 earmarks, totaling $395,199,063 in fiscal year 2009, ranking 6th out of 100 senators.

Ms. Lincoln, it seems, has been less greedy (she has also been in the Senate shorter than Ms. Landrieu has)’ she had sponsored or co-sponsored 115 earmarks totaling $221,902,125 in fiscal year 2009, ranking 26th out of 100 senators.

To whom are they beholden? From whom are they expecting the cash that will fund their re-election campaigns? According to a report from The Heritage Foundation, Congress has approved 11,914 earmarks for 2009, totaling $28.9 billion. What are earmarks anyway, if not a “prime the pump” kitty for re-election campaigns?

Maybe I should add a third woman to this list of least admired women of 2009: Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House of Representatives. Isn’t she the one who promised “the cleanest, most transparent Congress ever”? Whatever happened to that idea?
As usual, there is plenty of shame to go around in Washington; I find it painful to see it personified by women who ought to know better.

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