As the results surged in Tuesday night, a Democratic wave washed over both the House and the Senate, changing the composition of both legislative chambers. While that tidal shift, resulting in the Democrats handily gaining control of the House and narrowly claiming the Senate, by a whisker, it also brought about a historic event, one that bodes well for the women of America.
Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) will be the first ever woman speaker of the House. Not since 1992’s “the year of the woman,” which saw the election of a class of woman Senators who would become influential leaders in the Senate, has the election of a female been accompanied by such a bevy of media attention.
Women in politics are no longer an anomaly. With Pelosi’s ascension to speaker, they’re now edging closer to that ultimate goal—seeing a woman in the White House. Seeing that it is the year, 2006, the question becomes, “Why the hell not?”
With the votes all counted and the campaign signs being picked up and stored away, women now hold historically high numbers in the Congress—16 Senate seats, as well as 70 seats in the House. Yet, despite gains made by women, those numbers still only represent 16 percent of the total number of possible seats available in both chambers.
So, is 2006 the new year of the woman? Not according to Vivian Eveloff, director of the Sue Shear Institute for Women in Public Life at the University of Missouri.
“Oh, I so don’t like that expression," Eveloff says. "I think every year ought to be the year of the woman until we get a Congress, and we get legislators, and we get statehouses that reflect the diversity of this country. We’ve made a little progress this year. But we certainly have a long way to go.”
Therein lies the crux of the problem. While women continue to make their way up the political ladder, there remains work to be done. Obviously, Pelosi’s role is an important one in many ways. For both her party, as well as her gender, how she performs will resonate and could play a pivotal role in just two years, when we elect a successor to George W. Bush. If Pelosi can bridge the partisan divide and put a face of honesty, competence and accomplishment on her speakership, then it could be very interesting for Democrats in choosing their candidate to lead the party in their quest to retake the Oval Office.
The Democratic Party has a real opportunity to lead a nation that is divided by partisan politics, a war that has become an economic albatross and is stealing vitality and services from our own, and a perception that politics and politicians are incapable of getting the job done. Can Pelosi reinvigorate her party, as well as gain the support of most Americans? It won’t be easy. One place where the carping had already begun, before the election, was right-wing talk radio. I guess it's to be expected, but good lord, even a member of the "sisterhood," Laura Ingraham, (who along with Ann Coulter, are two of the meanest, nasty females I’ve ever encountered) was bashing Pelosi’s pending position, before she even had a chance to oversea any legislation or perform her first official task. I can only imagine how vitriolic it will become if Hilary is the Democratic nominee.
So, why do will still see women under-represented in our politics and why are we still so squeamish about the thought of a woman president? In other areas of the world, women have reached the pinnacle of power—think Golda Meir, Margaret Thatcher and recently, Angela Merkel, elected German Chancellor, in 2005 and Verónica Michelle Bachelet Jeria, elected president of Chil, in March, 2006, when she beat out billionaire businessman, Sebastian Pinera, in runoff election. Even better, in my opinion, Bachelet is a socialist, who campaigned on a platform of continuing Chile's free market policies, while increasing social benefits to help reduce the country's gap between rich and poor, one of the largest in the world. Now there’s a strategy in the making for Democrats—instead of always running towards the center, try mixing in a few actual liberal, or progressive ideas and really live up to the label of “liberal” tossed their way, spit out and even “hissed” by so many conservatives.
The next two years will be pivotal. While I’m no fan of the Democrats, at least in their current DLC modus operandi and I’ve had my issues with Pelosi, I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. Her performance could have a lot to say about whether Republicans ultimately lose the White House in 2008 and continue their freefall.