Do you get the feeling that casting a vote has become a huge chore this year? Although voting used to be a routine task, conducted at leisure in a local precinct, this year it has been beset by troubles.
–long lines for in-person voting
–social distancing regulations
–lack of polling places
— slow mail delivery
–suspicious observers at the polls
Is it worth taking the time to vote?
Two centuries ago, when our first voting systems were set up, officials tried to make it easy for people. A November election was convenient because the harvest would have been completed, but the worst of winter would not yet have arrived. And all the voting and counting would be finished before the new year began.
Times have changed. For most people Tuesday is an inconvenient time to vote. Unlike colonial farmers who set their own calendars, most people today work Monday to Friday. But many states cling to an outmoded history and have not changed to reflect the way people live in the 21st century.
Some state and local government officials are not trying to make voting more convenient or easier for citizens. They are trying to make it more difficult. Many seem intent on preventing people from voting. But there are ways to get around this.
You only need to vote in the races you care about. Be sure to vote for one of the candidates for President. That’s the vote that counts most.
For Senators and Representatives, you should normally vote for candidates who will support your presidential choice. That’s the way work gets done in Washington.
You don’t need to vote every line on the ballot. If you don’t recognize the names of the people running for the school board, just leave them blank.
If you live in a state that asks you to make a choice on a long list of ballot measures, skip the ones you don’t know or care about. Let elected officials make those complicated decisions. That’s what they get paid for.
THERE IS NOT MUCH TIME LEFT—VOTE FOR THE DECISIONS THAT ARE IMPORTANT TO YOU AND DO IT NOW!
Almost all of the news comments on the Democrats’ debates held this past week mentioned that for the first time women were a prominent part of the lineup. Ever since Samuel Johnson made his famous quip about women preaching in public, “Sir, a woman’s preaching is like a dog’s walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all” women have had to prove themselves worthy of speaking out in public settings.
all, it was more than a century after the establishment of the United States
that a woman was first elected to Congress. That was Jeannette Rankin, who was
elected from Montana in 1913. Rankin had become a public figure by her work in
the women’s suffrage movement. Before running for Congress, she had been the
first woman to speak before the Montana state legislature. There she urged that
women should be allowed to vote. She succeeded in getting the vote for Montana
women and moved on to fight for a national vote on suffrage.
had been fighting for the right to vote since 1848 and it was through the
struggle to win that right that many women became accustomed to speaking in
public and making their voices heard. They had many years of struggle, because
it wasn’t until 1920 that the Women’s Suffrage amendment was finally ratified.
Women have served
in Congress now for more than 100 years, but their move into power positions
has been very slow. It’s hard to believe that in 1984, it was considered daring
for the Democrats to nominate Geraldine Ferraro as their vice-presidential
candidate. She was the first woman to appear in national debates before the
election and her appearance was a welcome change for many voters, although of
course, her team did not win the presidency.
debates, however, showed a distinct change in the power structure of the
debates. Many of the male candidates thought their best way to win attention
(and potentially votes) was to interrupt as often as possible and take over the
argument. But on Thursday night they were put in their place by Kamela Harris
who had one of the most-quoted lines of the debate, “The American people don’t want to watch a food fight. They want us to
put food on the table.” And a few minutes later she made a stinging attack
on Joe Biden—no one interrupted her then.
And Harris wasn’t
the only woman who raised the level of the debates. Elizabeth Warren, during
the first debate, stuck to her points and talked substance instead of yelling
and interrupting. And we can’t forget Amy Klobucher who quietly mentioned that
the three women on the debate stage had far longer records than the men in
fighting for reproductive rights for all women.
There is no
question that women today are ready to speak out about national policies.
Perhaps the more relevant question today is: are men ready to engage with them
on a level that will benefit all of us?
In her speech to the Harvard University graduating class this week, Angela Merkel urged a cautious optimism: “I experienced firsthand how nothing has to stay the way it is,” she said. “This experience, dear graduates, is the first thought I wish to share with you: Anything that seems set in stone or inalterable can indeed change.”
She went on to list some of the problems the youthful
graduates might want to change: “Protectionism and trade conflicts jeopardize
free international trade and thus the very foundations of our prosperity,” she
said. “Wars and terrorism lead to displacement and forced migration. Climate
change poses a threat to our planet’s natural resources.”
Angela Markel’s common sense optimism, as well as her acknowledgement of the difficulties facing the world today grow out of her life experience. Born in 1954, she was raised in East Germany during the difficult years when the Soviets controlled that nation. In university she studied science and did not engage in public life. It wasn’t until the fall of the Soviet Union and the reunification of Germany that she was drawn to political life. Few people would have predicted she would become a leader. But, improbable or not, this quiet woman made her way past the bombastic male leaders of the party and eventually emerged as the leader.
Since becoming Chancellor of Germany
in 2005, Merkel has been acknowledged as the leader of the European Union. She
weathered the immigration crisis of 2015, encouraging Europeans to accept the
humanitarian necessity of helping Syrian refugees to find a place in European
Now Europe is facing continuing
turmoil as one country after another reveals a strain of populism that rejects
immigrants and wants to turn the clock back. Merkel has said that she will
leave politics in 2021 and allow someone else to negotiate the future. But her
contribution to building a united Europe will not be forgotten. As historians
look back on the first decades of the 21st century, I am certain she
will be recognized as the outstanding political leader of our times.
Angela Merkel is not the only woman
leader who is leaving the limelight. Theresa May, Prime Minister of Great
Britain, is also stepping down. May took on the onerous task of working out a
Brexit plan to move Britain out of the European Union. After the referendum in
which voters chose by a narrow margin to leave, several of the noisy male
supporters of the move stepped back and chose not to handle the mess they had
Theresa May was the only political
leader willing to take on the hard work of actually coming up with a plan. She
came up with a number of plans, but, unsurprisingly, someone found fault with
each one. The fact that she did not succeed in finding a magic formula that
would suit everyone was almost inevitable.
When Theresa May stepped down, the
media talked about her a failure. Perhaps they should wait to see whether any
of her critics comes up with a foolproof plan that will be accepted by all
sides. No one has shown any sign of doing that yet. I can’t wait to see whether
any of the guys who have been jeering from the sidelines will step up and hit a
home run now that they are on their own.
It is time for us to honor the courageous women who have not just talked but have taken on some of the world’s most serious problems. As Margaret Thatcher once said: If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman.
Sexism is alive and well in America. We all know that.
Just this week President Trump’s nominee for a post on the Federal Reserve Board had to withdraw his candidacy because of nasty remarks he has made about women over the years. The only surprise is not what he said, but the fact that he was called out for those remarks. Over the years, over the centuries really, powerful men, including our current President have suffered no penalty at all for insulting women.
When did things
start to change? If you depend on the media to tell you, the story will
probably be about the Me-too movement of the last few years. The backlash
against powerful men who thought they could exploit women has been much
publicized since the first accusations surfaced a few years ago. But it turns
out that women’s power has been an important factor in American political life
for more than 100 years.
I know this now
because I just finished reading Patricia Miller’s 2018 book Bringing Down the Colonel: A Sex Scandal of
the Gilded Age, and the “Powerless” Woman Who Took On Washington.
Miller tells the story of Madeline Pollard who in 1893 sued a prominent
Kentucky Congressman for breach of promise of marriage. Such cases were not
unknown, because marriage was almost the only chance women had to obtain a
secure life. But things were changing. It was a time when more and more women
had to find a way to make a living, even though most jobs and professions were
closed to them. Unfortunately, many men, including some of the most prominent citizens,
found it easy to take advantage of women and girls who were trying to build
their own lives.
Madeline Pollard was
an ambitious young woman in her late teens or early twenties (there are still
many unanswered questions about her life) who was trying to get an education.
She met Congressman William Breckenridge, member of one of Kentucky’s most
prominent families and a veteran of the Confederate Army, while she was
travelling on a train to her school. He introduced himself to her, she asked
him for advice, one thing led to another and soon she became his mistress. This
was no short affair. It lasted for eleven years and through the birth of two
babies (both of whom died) before his wife died.
Unfortunately, by the time he became a widower, Breckinridge was very short of money and needed a marriage to a wealthy, socially prominent woman to move ahead in his political career. But he had reckoned without Madeline. Unlike most women in her position, she was unwilling to give up and be silent about what he had promised.
Miller tells the
story of how Madeline gradually found supporters and brought her suit against
Breckenridge. Up until the very end, the Congressman did not seem to realize
that he could be held responsible. When he lost the suit, he confidently
announced that he would run for Congress again and gathered his usual team of
supporters around him.
To the amazement
of the politicians, it was the women of Kentucky who finally defeated
Breckenridge. Scores of women marched in protest against him. Even though they
could not vote, they warned their husbands, brothers, and sons not to give
Breckenridge another term in office. And they won! He never again served in
One final mystery
that Miller clears up in her book was the source of money that made it possible
for Pollard to pay the cost of going to court. It appears that there were
several wealthy widows who financed the trial. They never announced their
support, but they provided the resources needed to eventually bring down the
certainly sounds to me like a good message for women today. It will be women
standing up for other women that will finally succeed in combatting the double
standards that have for so long limited women’s participation in society And if
you need some encouragement along the way, you might want to read Bringing Down the Colonel and cheer on
Madeline Pollard and her supporters who were among the first to enlist for the
Of the seventeen candidates
running in the 2020 presidential race, seven are women. We are growing used to
seeing women on the podium at national conventions. But 35 years ago the idea
of a woman running for national office shocked the country.
In 1984, Americans found it hard to believe that the Democratic Presidential candidate, Walter Mondale, would choose a woman as his running mate. A woman to be Vice President? Unthinkable! But Geraldine Ferraro already had a history of setting new goals for women.
Many prominent women welcomed Ferraro’s candidacy. The New York Times quotes Ann Richards of Texas as saying “The first thing I thought of was not winning in a political sense, but of my two daughters.” It had been 64 years since women had gotten the right to vote, but Geraldine Ferraro was the first woman to demonstrate that even the highest office in the land was not off-limits for women.
It’s not easy to be a pioneer and Ferraro suffered from some of the same attitudes that have dogged female candidates ever since she ran. In 1984, candidates were expected to reveal their tax returns so the public could see where their money came from. Unlike male candidates, Ferraro was extensively questioned about her spouse’s finances and eventually she released her husband’s tax records. Of course, today even presidential candidates have been elected without revealing anything about their tax records. Times change.
Ferraro, like most women of her generation, had become accustomed to being disadvantaged because of her gender. When she graduated from college, her mother urged her to become a teacher because that was suitable work for a woman. When Geraldine decided she wanted to go to law school, an admissions officer warned her that she might be taking a man’s place at the school—an argument frequently used to discourage women from entering professional schools.
After law school Ferraro worked only part time until her children were in school and she felt free to accept a job as an assistant district attorney in Queens. (For many years she and her family lived in Forest Hills Gardens, Queens, the same neighborhood in which Donald Trump grew up.) Ferraro moved on to national politics when she ran for Congress in 1978. There she quickly learned to work with Democratic leaders to push through the party’s agenda.
The presidential campaign
of 1984 was a difficult one. Ronald Reagan was at the height of his popularity
running for a second term with his running mate George H.W. Bush. The
Mondale-Ferraro ticket was not given much chance of victory and sure enough it
went down to a sharp defeat in November.
But despite not winning the presidency, the Democrats had proven that a woman could be a formidable candidate and a plus for the party in a national election. Ferraro was a very popular draw at party rallies where she was often greeted by cries of “Gerry, Gerry!”
Ferraro changed several small habits in the country such as popularizing the use of “Ms” instead of either Miss or Mrs. During the 1984 campaign, the New York Times refused to use “Ms” and referred to Ferraro as “Mrs. Ferraro”, despite complaints from their resident grammarian William Safire. It was another two years before the NY Times finally allowed “Ms” to be used in their paper.
continued to be an active participant in political and social activities after
the 1984 campaign, although she never again held public office. She died in
2011, after having lived long enough to see the revolution of women’s
participation in public life in which she played such a large role. Women
candidates today owe her a vote of thanks.
As we celebrate Women’s
History Month, we should note that more women are serving in Congress now than
have ever served before. And a majority of the candidates for the 2020
presidential election are women. This week one of the people most responsible
for this revolutionary change is leaving the active political scene. Hilary
Clinton has announced that she will not be a candidate for president in 2020.
It’s about time we recognized all that she has done to make the changes in our
political life possible.
There have been other women candidates for President over the years. The notorious Victoria Woodhull ran for president as long ago as 1872, but no other woman has opened the door for a female president as wide as Hillary Clinton has. She has been opening doors for women now for more than a generation.
How many of us
remember when Clinton became first lady in 1993? She took over the role of the
previous First Lady, Barbara Bush, and the contrast was sharp. Barbara Bush
followed the typical path of women who grew up in the early twentieth century.
She dropped out of Smith College to marry George H.W. Bush and to follow her
husband around the country while he served in the military and went on to his
career. When she became First Lady in 1989, she promised that she would be a
“traditional” First Lady.
followed a different path. She completed her college degree at Wellesley
College and went on to Yale law school. Like Barbara Bush, she met her future
husband while she was a student, but she chose not to interrupt her education.
She and Bill Clinton moved to Arkansas, but after they married, she continued
to use her maiden name. Her decision to keep that name was unusual at the time
and apparently caused some dispute with both her mother and her mother-in-law,
but Hillary was already forging a path that would be followed by many other
women in years to come.
The public career
of Hillary Clinton is too well-known to need retelling. She served as First
Lady in her husband’s administration and later as Senator from New York. She
became Secretary of State in the Obama administration and travelled to more
countries than any Secretary of State had done previously. During all of her
assignments, her life was made more difficult because she was a woman. Often
the comments were just plain silly. These ranged from complaints about her
remark as First Lady that she didn’t stay home and bake cookies, to criticism
of the pants suits she often wore. She was a true pioneer and the choices she
made no doubt seemed threatening to some conservatives at the time, but no one
today would give them a second thought.
During the 2016
presidential election, Hillary Clinton got more votes than the man who became
president, but because of our complicated Electoral College system, those votes
were not enough to win the office. We will never know how much the 2016 race
was influenced by the reluctance of many men, and some women, to vote for a
woman for president.
long service to her country in many capacities has paved the way for the more
equitable Congress that we now have and for the number of women who are willing
to run for office. Surely we all owe her a vote of thanks for that.
We owe her more than a vote of thanks. The next government building that is built in Washington D.C. should be named for Hillary Clinton. She deserves the tribute for changing the role of women in our government and ushering in a new era of gender equality in politics. Let’s put this on the agenda. What a wonderful way to celebrate Women’s History Month!
As the new members of Congress were sworn into office this week, much attention was paid to the fact that more women than ever before are now serving in Congress. The youngest member, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, otherwise known as AOC, was probably the most talked about, especially after a video of her dancing while she was an undergraduate was posted online. Although the video was apparently posted to make her seem frivolous, most viewers seemed to find it charming.
When Ocasio-Cortez, or AOC, described herself as a socialist, conservatives again started attacking her. And when she suggested that a marginal tax rate of 70% might be appropriate for very high incomes, some commentators were outraged even though the rate she suggested is no higher than the one the U.S. tax code imposed during and after World War II.
The people who write political commentary seem to have
very short memories. The fact is that American Congresswomen have often favored
more radical solutions than their male colleagues supported. And they have
stood by their positions even when put under severe pressure.
When Jeannette Rankin took her seat in 1917, she made
almost as much of a splash as this year’s women did. As the first woman ever
elected to Congress, she joined with more than 50 other members who voted
against President Wilson’s request to enter World War I, even though the measure
passed with an overwhelming majority.
After the war was over, President Wilson declared that it had been fought to make the world safe for democracy. But Rankin turned his words against him when she fought hard for a national measure to give women throughout the country the right to vote. “How shall we explain to them [American women] the meaning of democracy if the same Congress that voted to make the world safe for democracy refuses to give this small measure of democracy to the women of our country?” she asked. Women finally got the vote in 1920
Rankin left Congress but continued to be an activist for many years. In 1940 she was re-elected to a House seat and arrived there in time to be confronted with the Pearl Harbor attack. This time there were fewer members of Congress who opposed President Roosevelt’s request for a declaration of war against Japan. When she voted against the motion she was hissed and she was never again elected to public office.
Some Americans, however,
recognized Rankin’s courage. Wikipedia describes the reaction of the noted
editor William Allen White:
Probably a hundred men in Congress would have liked to do
what she did. Not one of them had the courage to do it. The Gazette entirely
disagrees with the wisdom of her position. But Lord, it was a brave thing! And
its bravery someway discounted its folly. When, in a hundred years from now,
courage, sheer courage based upon moral indignation is celebrated in this
country, the name of Jeannette Rankin, who stood firm in folly for her faith,
will be written in monumental bronze, not for what she did, but for the way she
In recent years other Congresswomen have demonstrated rare courage in standing up for their beliefs. After the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York City and Washington D.C., Congresswoman Barbara Lee was the only representative to vote against the Authorization for Use of Military Force—the act that gives the president sweeping powers to attack any country at any time if he or she believes it threatens the safety of the United States or supports terrorism. That act passed 420-1 with Lee the only representative who voted against it. In the years since 2001, many people have come to believe that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and much of the Middle East that were justified under this act have done irreparable damage to America, but at the time, Barbara Lee was the only Congressperson who recognized the danger.
Anyone who has forgotten the tangled emotions and arguments that followed 9/11 (and that includes most of us) should read the article in the Atlantic that tells the story of both the attacks and support Barbara Lee received following her vote. But, through the years, Lee has held firmly to her beliefs and is still serving in Congress representing her district in Oakland, California.
It is easy to see
that the women now entering Congress are following the footsteps of some
determined and courageous women. Let’s hope they can live up to the courage of
their past leaders.
There are only a few more days until the elections, but some of us are wondering whether we will make it through the 2018 Midterms. And for those of us who have faithfully filled out our ballots and voted early, there is nothing to do now but chew our fingernails until the elections are over and the results are in.
How about taking a complete break? While the news media thunder their stories at us, election mailers clog our mailboxes, and our phones keep ringing with robocalls from campaigns, now is the time to declare our independence and find a different path. And because this is the beginning of November, thousands of people across the country and around the world have decided to spend a month on creating something they have always dreamed about. NaNoWriMo is the name of a group dedicated to helping to encourage creativity through writing. The odd name stands for National Novel Writing Month.
NaNoWriMo, which will turn twenty years old next year, is a program to help writers and would-be writers sit down and produce a 50,000 word novel (or part of a novel) during the month of November. More than 400,000 people have tried the program either as adults or through the young writers program for students. Writing coaches help by posting pep talks and helpful suggestions for making the best use of writing time. And participants can join a group of other writers in a specific genre whether it is science fantasy, mystery, romance, or children’s books.
Setting goals to complete a specific project during a defined period of time is a wonderful way to make a start on some of your dreams. After trying NaNoWriMo for three years, I know how encouraging it is to feel the support of a group of people with goals similar to my own. You won’t finish a completed, ready-for-publication novel in a month, but lots of us have credible first drafts that we can build on over the year or more that writing a novel takes.
Perhaps other people who have creative dreams in different fields should come together to form similar groups. There are plenty of months that haven’t been taken yet. May might be a good month for making a movie, or September for writing a sonata. Too many people hope to start a great artistic project someday, but don’t actually do it. The first step is to start! And if the first time doesn’t work and your novel or movie or sonata dies away before completion, there is no need to despair. Failure once doesn’t mean failure always.
Millions of people over the years have been cheered by listening to the popular song written during the 1930s by Jerome Kern with lyrics by Dorothy Fields:
Nothing’s impossible, I have found
For when my chin is on the ground
I pick myself up, dust myself off
Start all over again
Come to think of it, that’s not a bad motto for an election either. Whatever happens next week, there will be another chance. Meanwhile
The United States was founded by a group of men who wanted to do away with hereditary rulers. Leaders were supposed to come from out of the group of men naturally qualified to lead—the well-established, well-educated elites. They were to be
the voters who chose the best among them to lead the country. The population of the country was small, just below 4,000,000 in 1790 when the first census was taken, so perhaps it was not strange that various members of the same family became leaders. John Adams, the second president, was eventually followed by his son, John Quincy Adams, who became the country’s sixth president. It was a long time before the next father/son pair took the presidency—George H.W. Bush became the 41st president in 1988 and his son George W. Bush followed became the 43rd to hold the office in 2000. By this time the population of the country had grown to 180,000,000. With so many people to choose from the chances of seeing many more such pairs seems slim.
Until recently, I had never seen a study of how fathers and sons who governed the same community have influenced one another, but now we have an account of how a father-son pair of governors in California did that. Miriam Pawel’s book The Browns of California tells the story of Pat Brown and his son Jerry Brown who were governors during half a century of California’s history.
When Pat Brown became governor of California in 1959, the population of the state was ten and a half million—more than twice as large as the entire country was when John Adams served as president. California was a relatively young state, at least compared with states on the Eastern Seaboard. The infrastructure had to be developed and a young population was eager to have a strong educational system. Pat Brown united the state, or at least enough of the voters, to develop a viable water system for the parched state and a system of highways connecting the large and diverse population. Under his leadership California instituted the country’s largest university system
and a strong pre-college school system to prepare students for higher education.
By the time Pat Brown left office in 1967, the mood of the country had changed. The Vietnam War highlighted cultural divisions and led to unexpected violence. The mood of the country was shifting from the euphoria of post-WWII to the resentment and fears of a growing and ever more diverse population. By the time Pat’s son, Jerry Brown first became governor in 1975, some of his father’s policies seemed to be outdated and doomed. The population of the state had doubled again to over 23 million and taxpayers were beginning to revolt against the high taxes needed to support the state’s services.
Jerry Brown’s second tenure as governor, which will end this year, brought even more dramatic changes. Governor Jerry Brown has been a strong voice in the country and the world to call attention to the dangers of climate change and the need for new and less destructive ways of life. It is fascinating to see in this book how some of his father’s positions continue to dominate the state and how the son has changed and modified others to meet the current situation. His experience in local politics, perhaps especially his experience as mayor of Oakland, led him to value local control of some policies, while others, such as climate change, need to be supported internationally.
For anyone concerned with government and policy, whether in California or elsewhere, I strongly recommend The Browns of California. It is easy to read and filled with valuable insights into the way our world works.