David Adler: A woman president would help women everywhere

August 22, 2013 

The prospect — no, the likelihood and growing inevitability — of Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the White House reflects, in part, the fulfillment of a goal delayed but not denied. The election of the first woman to the presidency, whenever it occurs, will represent an event of historical dimensions celebrating the long, slow climb of women to the highest positions in the land.

It will reflect as well the poignant, powerful narrative of the politics of substance, symbolism and atonement. The historical struggle of women to achieve recognition as legal persons, and in civil rights, voting rights, elective office, leadership responsibilities, the workplace and corporate boardrooms, would have been exalted, if not crowned, in 2008, had Clinton captured both her party’s nomination and the Oval Office.

That she was denied that unique moment in America history by the electoral triumphs of Barack Obama, a historic achievement that helped, in part, to ease the conscience of a nation seared by centuries of racism, reflected for some the politics of atonement. Atonement for one national sin, however incomplete, leaves for the agenda further heavy lifting to atone for another.

The injuries to women and our nation inflicted by decades of sexism won’t be healed overnight by the election to the presidency of a woman, but it will represent a historic turning point and repair our national conscience.

Partisan and policy squabbles aside, few in America will quarrel with Clinton’s credentials to assume the presidency. It’s hard to find men who boast a comparable resume. And, while ambition is plasma in politics, few have as much as Clinton.

Clinton’s deep well of ambition, including pursuit of the presidency, is part of a larger story for all Americans, but particularly instructive for women hoping to leap barriers that have been thrown in their paths to success in the workplace, the political arena and legislative victories that would improve the quality of their lives.

Since when have we seen the achievement of anything of significance without men and women who are suffused with drive, perseverance and ambition? Yet, the hurdles that have confounded women in their quest for workplace promotions, professional dignity and equal pay are complicated to render erroneous the ascription of a mere lack of ambition to women-who-would-succeed.

Still, there is much to commend about seizing one’s opportunities. More than one politician has subscribed to the timeless teaching of Peter Finley Dunne: “I seen my opportunities and I took ’em.”

Consider, for example, the political tools available to women who would like equal pay for equal work. The demand for equal pay could be on the lips and in the actions and votes of every female voter in every national and state election. Idaho voters could demand of their congressional delegation a promise to enact further legislation to enforce The Equal Pay Act enacted and signed into law by President John F. Kennedy 50 years ago.

Idaho voters could impose the same demand on those seeking seats in the state Legislature and those hoping to be the next governor. Equal pay in Idaho could be made the No. 1 priority for female voters.

A livable wage, rather than a minimum wage, might become the issue of the season. A disproportionate number of women in Idaho hold minimum wage jobs, which are not sufficient to support themselves or their families.

If not an economic issue, indeed a family values issue, that exempts men, it surely constitutes a critical issue for women that should be brought center stage if they hope to improve their circumstances. They can, and should, urge Idaho’s leaders to court businesses that will provide more substantial wages and salaries.

David Adler is the Cecil D. Andrus professor of public affairs at Boise State University, where he serves as director of the Andrus Center for Public Policy.

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