How Far Women Have Come and Where They’re Going

“As an activist for women through almost four decades, I know that no movement for social justice moves forward without struggle, nor does forward movement necessarily go in a straight line.”  

Today, March 8, is celebrated around the globe as International Women’s Day .  Some decry its commercialization, as corporate sponsors have realized it’s in their best interests to appeal to women who make over 85 percent of consumer purchases around the globe.
But it’s a day whose meaning inspires me to think back to a very special moment on September, 1995.

I was attending the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women, where hugely ambitious and thrilling goals were set for improving the lives of women, and by extension their families and the world.

The official conference was in Beijing, but the much larger convocation of activists from nongovernmental organizations—40,000 enthusiastic women and a few good men like my husband—was literally stuck in the mud in Huairu, a suburb an hour’s drive from the city.

Thousands of sleepy people had arrived at dawn on the morning of Sept. 6, to stand packed together under a roof of brightly colored umbrellas, jockeying for the few hundred seats inside the auditorium where then first lady of the United States Hillary Clinton was slated to give a speech.

Thanks to my training in clinic defense, which had taught me how to form a wedge and move expeditiously through even the most aggressive crowd, I was fortunate not only to get inside but to get a seat. The program was running late; Hillary was running even later and the crowd was getting restless.

Just as it seemed a revolt might be brewing, Shirley May Springer Stanton, the cultural coordinator of the conference, sauntered onto the stage and began to sing a capella, ever so softly: “Gonna keep on moving forward. Never turning back, never turning back.”

Then she asked the audience to join her. Pretty soon the house was rocking. By the time the first lady arrived and gave her brilliant “human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights” speech, it truly felt like the global movement for women’s rights was unstoppable.

Hillary Clinton, Beijing 1995

It was, you might say, an ovular moment.

Where are women today? How far have we come?

Here in the United States, that moment can seem long ago. Today, women are aghast that presidential candidates are railing against birth control (yes, birth control!) access for American women, and members of Congress argue against funding for international family planning services that could reduce the millions of unsafe abortions and risky pregnancies that cause 500,000 unnecessary deaths each year globally.

But the U.S. women’s movement can take inspiration from working in sisterhood with women from around the globe. When the United States failed to meet its commitments to the global public-health community, many developing countries began funding these essential women’s health services beyond all expectations and the European nations stepped in to fill much of the void left by America’s abdication of leadership.

Women’s economic development projects are also fueling economic growth around the world while bringing greater equality to the women in their societies. Sex trafficking and other acts of violence against women, long merely routine facts of life for women, are becoming subjects of international media attention and human rights action. And female heads of state have been elected in Europe, Africa and Latin America.

  18 female elected heads of state

And though the U.S. has yet to follow suit, Hillary Clinton almost broke through that “highest and hardest glass ceiling,” is serving the country with great distinction as Secretary of State. And that puts her in a position not just to talk about, but to implement her declaration that women’s rights are human rights at the highest policy levels.

As an activist for women through almost four decades, I know that no movement for social justice moves forward without struggle, nor does forward movement necessarily go in a straight line.  All of us who support it must have the political will, courage, commitment, stamina and a never-ending creation of inspiring initiatives that touch real people’s lives. A movement, after all, has to move. Power and energy come from moving into new spaces, not from standing still.

On this Women’s Equality Day, we can proudly acknowledge that women have changed the world, much for the better in terms of justice and equality. That’s exactly what scares our adversaries and causes the kind of backlash from those who do not want women to be able to stand in our power and walk with intention to our own unlimited lives, as the Power Tools in my book No Excuses show how to do.

One of those Power Tools, “Employ Every Medium” was used very effectively by a group of African women who attended the Beijing conference and told their story about how they stamped out spousal abuse in their village when they had been unable to get their local law enforcement officers to do it.

The women banded together, took their cooking pots, and took up positions outside of the homes of men who had committed violent acts against their wives. They banged on those pots so loudly that the whole neighborhood came out and took note. And after a while, the men came out of their homes and agreed to change their behavior.

Each country today has different reasons to bang their pots on this International Women’s Day 2012. But the refrain for all of us who aspire to global justice for women is the same.

Gonna raise our voices boldly, Never turning back. Gotta keep on moving forward, Never turning back, Never

This article originally ran in a blog post for WOMEN ON THE FENCE. Check it out here.

Has the “War on Women” Gone Too Far?

Surely Politico jests. I’m sure you can add to my examples:

Politico Arena asks:

Democrats are raising money with a petition against the “Republican War on Women.” Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the DNC chair, repeated the jibe Sunday on “Meet the Press” when asked about Rush Limbaugh’s recent comments on contraception.

Now that Limbaugh has apologized, will voters see “war on women” language as overkill? Particularly those who oppose the Obama administration’s contraception coverage policy on moral/religious grounds?

My Response:  You’re kidding, right? There’s hardly even a truce.

Rush Limbaugh calling Georgetown University student Sandra Fluke a slut and a prostitute as she asked her university to cover hormonal birth-control and the subsequent fury that caused many of his advertisers to abandon him (and his very lame non-apology apology) was one small skirmish in the much larger and ongoing war on women being waged by an ideologically driven minority who would much prefer that women had remained barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen.

Just this past week, Roy Blunt and other Senate Republicans sought to pass legislation that would allow any employer to deny preventive contraceptive health services to their employees on the basis of any religious or “moral” objections. As though women are wanton hussies with no morals or religion.

Senator Carolyn Maloney pointed out the obvious during a House hearing called to discuss Obama’s contraception mandate: “What I want to know is, where are the women? I look at this panel, and I don’t see one single individual representing the tens of millions of women across the country who want and need insurance coverage for basic preventative health care services, including family planning.”

At another all-male hearing on the now-tabled Blunt Amendment to limit access to contraception, Rep Barbara Boxer limned, “Not one man suggested that men shouldn’t have their Viagra, but we’ll put that aside”

When an all-male news crew can un-ironically discuss the all-male panel, women’s voices are marginalized, excluded even from discourse surrounding issues that exclusively affect their lives. In another shocking media moment, Fox news broadcaster Ross Shimabuku suggested that female NASCAR athlete Danica Patrick was a “bitch” because she complained about being publicly called “sexy.”

If more proof that the War on Women continues apace, note that three Democrats voted against tabling the Blunt amendment. So women should be very careful about sending money to the party that allows its members to violate cover values in its own platform. Personally, I’m supporting only pro-woman, pro-choice candidates. Because I’m in this to win, not merely to live to fight another day.

Sexist Screed Gone Too Far-Now Rush Must Go

It’s Women’s History Month. Let’s make Rush Limbaugh history. Here’s one action you can take. Scroll down to the bottom for more actions, and updates as they come in. His sponsors are bailing fast, thanks to you!

Politico Arena asks:
Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh has been heavily criticized by the Georgetown University law student who he called a “slut” after she testified on Capitol Hill about women’s access to contraception.

“I’m not the first woman to be treated this way by numerous conservative media outlets, and hopefully I’ll be the last,” Sandra Fluke said on MSNBC’s “The Ed Show.” “This is really inappropriate. This is outside the bounds of civil discourse.”

Although Limbaugh infuriated Democrats by calling Fluke both a “prostitute” and a “slut,” he has shown no signs that he’ll issue an apology.

Should Limbaugh issue an apology? Or will the media firestorm blow over?

My Response: No apology is good enough. Rush must go. Period.

Women have had to put up with his “feminazi” epithets for far too long, but now, his labeling an upstanding young college student a “slut” and a “prostitute” for claiming her moral and human right to the very contraceptive coverage that allows millions of women to be sexually responsible should get him bounced from his host seat forever.

This woman-bashing is at its core about fear of women, especially women with power to determine the course of their own lives. Limbaugh has revealed the ugly sexism that underlies the warped logic of proponents of the Blunt amendment, the recent VA forced ultrasound bill, insurance coverage of contraception, and opposition to just about anything that might allow women to function as equal citizens.

If Don Imus lost his job over his “nappy headed ho” comment, then surely, as Rachel Larris at the Women’s Media Center put it, Rush Limbaugh’s latest insults to women are “Finally Too Much to  Bear.” Limbaugh’s vicious, misogynist screed is profane beyond the bounds of decency.

March is Women’s History Month. Time for women to make Rush Limbaugh history.

Here’s the link to my original post on Politico

Update and more action information 3/3/12:

Your voice makes a difference. Carbonite just peeled off:
For people who have asked about how to influence Limbaugh’s sponsors to dump him, here is heartening news-go thank them:

Carbonite Online Backup
A Statement from David Friend, CEO of Carbonite: A Statement from David Friend, CEO of Carbonite: “No one with daughters the age of Sandra Fluke, and I have two, could possibly abide the insult and abuse heaped upon this courageous and well-intentioned young lady. Mr. Limbaugh, with his highly personal attacks on Miss Fluke, overstepped any reasonable bounds of decency. Even though Mr. Limbaugh has now issued an apology, we have nonetheless decided to withdraw our advertising from his show. We hope that our action, along with the other advertisers who have already withdrawn their ads, will ultimately contribute to a more civilized public discourse.”

Other sponsors that have dropped Rush thus far are Quicken Loan, Sleep Mattress, and Sleep Mode.

Sign the petition to urge ProFlowers to dump Rush if you haven’t already done so, as they are holding out.

Find a more complete list of sponsors and advertisers that you can boycott or/and write to to urge them to stop sponsoring him.

Update 3/4/12: You all rock!

Here’s today’s Limbaugh update from @jljacobson at RH RealityCheck: ProFlowers has suspended their advertising on Limbaugh’s show, which is no small feat because … ProFlowers is owned by Liberty media and according to Forbes there are strong and direct ties between Liberty and Koch Brothers, as well apparently, with Bain Capital…. what a web!.

Here is a piece that lists all the sponsors who’ve dropped Limbaugh.

And here is a piece at Forbes.com that puts together the links between various actors.

This is great news, but don’t stop yet. Compliment the advertisers that dropped Rush, keep the pressure on those that are still recalcitrantly supporting his sexism, and remain vigilant about all sexism in the media.

Onward!

And Then They Came for Birth Control

As the Senate took up the Blunt amendment that would allow any employer to refuse to provide birth control coverage  to employees based on an undefined “religious or moral” objection, women and men are asking me every day what in the heck is going on—are we back in the dark ages? Why do we have to keep fighting these battles?

I recently had the chance to give my answer to that question when I talked with with  iVillage  host Kelly Wallace and 2012 Election Editor and Correspondent Joanne Bamberger (aka Punditmom) about the many attacks on birth control and abortion. On her own blog, Joanne wrote:

“I feel like I’m living in the time of Hester Prynne and her Scarlet Letter in light of the ongoing and escalating attacks on women’s health, especially when it comes to anything concerning our ‘lady parts.’  Some women on the right say birth control has nothing to do with our health.  I say, “What?” ...are we headed back to 1850 or is this just a blip on the political radar?”

There are unfortunately some people who never made it out of the 1850’s or at least the 1950’s.

Including those who are trying to impose their religious or moral point of view on women whose moral and religious points of view are diametrically different. People like the attorney who challenged the Washington state law requiring pharmacists to fill prescriptions for emergency contraception. Listen as we sparred on WNYC’s The Takeaway. Host John Hockenberry, who did a great job of probing the issue, nevertheless framed it as “religious freedom versus access to services.” Access to services is very important, because rights without access are meaningless. Nevertheless, I challenged that description. I think it’s high time that we claim the moral high ground and insist that  our religious and moral views be respected.

And I was pleased to see NCJW CEO Nancy Kaufman articulate a similar point of view eloquently, saying that the woman’s conscience should come first and be respected. Let’s keep advancing this argument–I think it’s much stronger even than the right to health care access.

By the way, in the “barefoot” part of the “barefoot and pregnant” equation much beloved by the right wing retrogrades like Rick Santorum, please check out my new blogpost on ForbesWoman.com,

“What’s the Next Great Leap for Women?”

How about progressive women spend a little less time fighting about reproductive rights and address more energy to taking over the world through the power of wealth creation and acquisition?

Is Fox News Swinging Left?

Hahahahaha. I’ll believe this when I see it but it was fun to contemplate whether Fox will swing left any time before hell freezes over. Can MSNBC’s ratings be that high that Fox is running scared?

Arena asks:Is Fox News swinging left?

My response: Fox is starting to report the news instead of parroting right wing screed? What a thought!

Could this move be related to something in the headlines today, a new feminist channel announced by Alltopic to compete with Google’s, signaling a renewed interest in these issues? Or to the obvious national consensus that birth control is actually a basic element of health care and should be covered as such? Or has Rupert Murdock’s corruption scandal made even Roger Ailes rethink the ethics of running a media outlet on ideology rather than, well, news?

[Photo: Roger Ailes at Fox News. | Reuters ]

I’m not going to switch my viewing habits anytime soon, but it is heartening to see that worshipers of marketplace economics are susceptible to the same marketplace economics. Maybe I’ll be a little less annoyed in the future by television screens in public places blaring Fox newscasts.

Here’s the link to my original post on Politico

Women See Red, Get Over Komen Pink, and Embrace Power

This commentary was published yesterday on the Daily Beast with the title “Komen Incites Women’s Tahrir Square Moment.” If you haven’t read it there, please hop on over  and give me a share, stumble, and/or comment. There’s quite a lively conversation going on. Then come back and tell me what you think here.

Mostly, I’d like to start a conversation about taking the great passion this kerfluffle between Komen for the Cure and Planned Parenthood has generated and catapult it into a more vibrant, durable, and most of all proactive women’s movement. Clearly, the huge outpouring was about more than the two organizations themselves. There was a lot of pent up readiness for activism and just plain demanding respect as women–as persons–with brains, hearts, and moral autonomy–not as subjects of society’s political whims or social narratives that we did not write.

Let me get off my soapbox and let you read on….

“I am off to feed my daughter (with breasts that were examined by Planned Parenthood doctors when I had no health insurance).”

Allie Wagstrom, a young mom in Minnesota whom I know only via Facebook, posted this on my page after she heard the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation, parent of the ubiquitous pink-ribboned “Race for the Cure,” bowed to political pressure from the right and announced last week that it would no longer fund breast exams and breast health education at Planned Parenthood clinics. Komen’s astonishingly sloppy handling of the situation (for which they have now apologized and semi-retracted) put a black mark in indelible ink on their sweet pink ribbons.

Planned Parenthood Supporters
Planned Parenthood supporters demonstrated following a press conference by U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) outside at a Planned Parenthood Clinic on Feb. 3, 2012 in Seattle, Washington., Stephen Brashear / Getty Images

Facebook popped a picture of Cynthia Nixon, the lead actor in the Broadway drama about ovarian cancer, Wit, next to Allie’s comment in an advertising tactic. Nixon’s bald head and gaunt face shocked the breath out of me, while social media exploded with the wrath of millions of women who felt scorned by a charity for which they had raced and purchased pink products they didn’t need.

Why this outpouring, even from women who had never openly supported Planned Parenthood? Abortion politics remain an uncomfortable abstraction to many. But we all have breasts. What woman hasn’t had that moment of fear when your heart skips a beat and you’re sure you’ve found the lump of doom?

Fear. Komen’s handling of this debacle is a case study in it. Republican members of Congress and far right anti-choice activists have been using fear of retribution to bully Komen into dropping Planned Parenthood for years, just as Congress held up the federal budget over funding to Planned Parenthood last year and groups like Project Mustard Seed threaten to boycott businesses and funders who support Planned Parenthood.

Komen finally buckled. Spokeswoman Leslie Aun told the media Planned Parenthood was dropped because of an investigation (read: witch hunt) by an arch-Republican House member, Cliff Stearns from Florida. And despite the frivolousness of many inquiries (in my 30 years with Planned Parenthood, congressional investigations were such a routine method of intimidation that we joked our offices should provide permanent space for federal auditors), Komen had a new policy prohibiting funding groups under federal investigation.

At least one of Komen’s corporate funders, Bank of America, is under federal investigation, and many suggested that the “new rule” should work both ways.

But by Brinker’s failed damage-control interview two days later with NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, the story had changed. Congressional investigations had no impact on Komen’s decision, claimed Brinker, herself a top Republican donor and former Bush appointee.  No, Komen dropped Planned Parenthood after a 20-year relationship because the foundation would no longer support groups that do screening and referrals but not mammograms, Brinker said, as if none of us had been following the story.

Gloria discusses Komen Foundation’s Epic Public Relations Fail and the Rise of a New Feminism on WORQ710, NY City Interview

The political dots connected directly: from the appointment of avidly anti-abortion activist, former Georgia secretary of state, and failed Georgia gubernatorial candidate Karen Handel as a Komen senior executive to Rep. Stearns’s conveniently timed investigation, to the new policy announced then retracted by Brinker. The Republican right is out of control, the War on Women is in full battle formation, and it was finally time for women—and men—to be mad as hell and stand up to the bullies. To have our Tahrir Square moment.

That Wagstrom and so many others are furious enough to vow spontaneously to stop Racing for the Cure, boycott Komen’s corporate sponsors (see which household names like Kitchen Aid, Yoplait, and Crayola you want to stop patronizing) and rip up those pink ribbons that have become badges of intolerance tells me something bigger is happening than whether any one organization gets funded.
If this were just about Planned Parenthood or yet another battle over abortion, the outrage would be dissipating. Women’s groups would have screamed their righteous indignation, raised a lot of money, and made no systemic change. Soon, the same Kabuki drama would be played out with another congressional attack or another worthy organization defunded.
But as a friend e-mailed me, “This is not a time to forgive, this is a time to find an alternative.” The American Association of University Women cancelled plans to incorporate a Race for the Cure into their National Conference for College Women Leaders.

When I asked AAUW Policy Director Lisa Maatz whether they’d reinstate the race since Komen changed its position, she replied AAUW is “staying the course” until they see what Komen does long term. She added, “we hope everyone has taken note of what women’s solidarity can accomplish—in the press, on the web, and in our nation’s capital. AAUW hopes to continue to harness this energy and sense of purpose…to turn out the women’s vote in 2012.”

At last, women saw enough red to get over the pink, the fear and the preference to play victim rather than to embrace our own power.

And that’s exactly how to stand down both ideologues who are terrified of women getting a fair shake, and the small but powerful fringe obsessed with other people’s sex lives. Embracing our power is how to overcome the shaming and false allegations toward women’s human right to make their own childbearing decisions and reproductive health services that have saved the lives of everyday women, pro-life in the largest sense of that word. It is how to overcome the right’s demonization of anyone who doesn’t toe its narrow conservative line, whether it’s racist attacks on President Obama’s citizenship, intolerance of gays and lesbians, or disrespect for the moral capacity of women. To borrow the right-wing’s favorite book, Atlas isn’t going to take it anymore; we’re making a collective shrug on this one.

No excuses. No more fear. This is the moment for women to say, over and over and over, “You will pay a price if you try to get your way on our backs.” To win elections in the short haul, and fight forward with a progressive feminist agenda in the long haul.

Now that will be the real race for the cure.

 

Another Year of the Woman? Really?

There was a short piece in Monday’s USA Today saying that 2012 is shaping up to be another “Year of the Woman.”   And they did have some very good news numbers to back that notion:

 …a notable number of candidates are running in potentially competitive races in both the House of Representatives and Senate that could send a wave of female lawmakers to Washington in November. If so, it would reverse the 2010 election trend that saw the first dip in female representation in the House since 1978 and only sent one woman, New Hampshire Republican Kelly Ayotte, to the Senate.

In the 2012 Senate lineup, there are 10 female candidates — four Republicans and six Democrats — seeking office. Of the six states with female Democratic candidates — Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Nevada, North Dakota and Wisconsin — none has ever elected a woman to the Senate.

Republican women are running in Connecticut, Hawaii, Missouri and New Mexico.

I want to believe, oh how I want to believe. These numbers, though inching up, still represent a mere fractional increase—even if all of them are elected—a probability somewhere around that of hell freezing over.

At the rate we have been going for the last 20 years and since the first “Year of the Woman” in 1992, it will take 70 years to reach gender parity in Congress.

Still, the growing number of women running is a tribute to hard work by organizations like the Women’s Campaign Forum, White House Project, and Emily’s List over the last several decades, as well as newer groups such as Emerge America, Running Start, and the 2012 Project.

Let us also give a cheer for Hillary Clinton who put those 18 million cracks in the “highest and hardest” glass ceiling and showed young women once and for all that they really can grow up to be president.

The increase in women candidates also raises a new issue, heretofore swept under the rug. Whereas progressive, socially liberal women (Democrats and Republicans) opened the doors for all women to run for office, today woman run from across the political spectrum.

Candidates like right-wing Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin who oppose women’s reproductive rights, equal pay initiatives, and other policies that help women have a fair shot are indelible examples. In the past, women candidates of both parties were more likely to prioritize and support issues like education, health, child care, and reproductive justice. No more.

So no longer can women, or men who support women’s equality, blindly follow former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s admonition that “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” Now, every responsible pro-woman voter must first check out female candidates’ agendas as well as their gender.

It’s time to be out of the closet about that fact and not fool ourselves that electing just any woman is good for women overall.

The solution to the problem always changes the problem.  Still, it’s a great problem to have.

And if 2012 brings about a measurable increase in women at the top of the policy making tree, it’ll be cheers all around. But let this also be a wake-up call to progressive women that this is the moment to step it up as voters, candidates, and activists.

State of the Union Speech: Almost the Obama We Voted For

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve been a harsh critic of Obama’s leadership or lack of it since he took office, not because I supported Clinton (which I did but I got over it), but as someone who understands the responsibilities of a chief executive to create meaning, articulate a vision, and put forth an agenda for people to work from. From the time he was elected until now, his vision kept shrinking rather than expanding and his penchant for appeasing even the unappeasable has been nothing short of maddening.

That unwillingness to put a stake in the agenda ground left the Democrats in Congress adrift. The result has been that even when Obama scored accomplishments such as heath reform, it never felt like a victory. Because it was never clean cut, never a righteous fight.

But I have to say he knocked it out of the ballpark tonight in his State of the Union Address (full text here). His energetic delivery, piquant story telling, and frequent appeals to the highest American values made me remember the Obama I voted for in 2008 and thought had disappeared entirely.

It was brilliant to start and end with foreign policy and homage to the military, whose selflessness and teamwork contrast so sharply with the circular firing squad that is Congress.  “Imagine what we could achieve if we all had the selflessness of the troops.”

Best line of the speech IMHO: **Fight obstruction with action.**

Where have you been these last three years, Mr. President? Welcome back.

It was so smart (albeit a little smoke and mirrors) to connect the multiple wars people are so tired of with the post WW II economic boom and the rise of the middle class. Now, there is HOPE. “The defining issue of our time is how to keep that dream alive.” “Fair shot, fair share, everyone play by rules.” “Reclaim American values.” He took the mantle personally by talking about his own grandfather’s military service and using the GI Bill to get an education afterward.

I couldn’t help thinking how darn lucky Obama is that Hillary Clinton is such a team player. So many of these foreign policy victories were hers. He did acknowledge that though she had been his primary opponent, as Secretary of State, she was in the room when the decision to go for Bin Ladin was made. (I try not to be like the sexist media and comment on female politicians’ looks, but it was great to see her looking radiantly, authentically Hillary, with her longer hair and the return of her much-maligned headband.)

Segue to taking credit for creating 3million–or was it 4?–jobs after Bush lost so many. And for protecting consumers after the big bad banks screwed them. And for saving GM, which has shown once again that the American workers are the best. He touched the heart of every businessman, who has probably read the classic business book, Built to Last.

Did he read my blogpost? He did what I asked him to do–emphasize expanding jobs in the sectors that heavily employ women, in myriad ways. Lauding teachers, expanding community colleges, and on.

I won’t continue with the usual SOTU Christmas tree of mentions dangled before constituencies waiting anxiously for their personally important issues. The important thing is the overall effect. This Obama can demolish any of the current Republican candidates.

No wonder the pundits were speculating on whether the GOP would try to draft a faux moderate like Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels since all their current choices are deeply flawed. They tried to soften their hard-edged image by putting Daniels  up to do the requisite retort. He started out statesmanly, then quickly shifted to blame everything from joblessness to the pox on Obama. The only interesting moment was when he coined a new phrase, “trickle down government” as tar to stick together his various disparagements. Otherwise, it was same old same old. Whine whine. Negative, bitter. Attack. No vision, no action.

What Obama left out:
Didn’t mention Paycheck Fairness Act though did mention equal pay to big cheers.
Didn’t mention putting the Freedom of Choice Act back into his priority list, or even the recent rulings expanding contraceptive coverage.
Didn’t talk much about health care at all.
If he mentioned major women’s initiatives such as the Executive Order Instituting a National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security, I missed it.

But there was great symbolism in the first time an openly gay military officer sat with the first lady and the end of Don’t Ask Don’t tell was lauded. Same with Warren Buffett’s secretary nodding approval when the president pointed out the unfairness of her paying a higher tax rate than her boss, and the camera panning Laurene Jobs each time the word “innovation” was mentioned. There was also the almost unbearable sadness of seeing the courageous but still wounded AZ Rep. Gabby Giffords bidding farewell for now to her Congressional colleagues.

All in all, I’m breathing out, relieved that the president performed so well. Commentators said that the State of the Union speech isn’t nearly as important or watched as it used to be. But I’m a sappy enough patriot to listen to every word, and to embrace the theater of it as an incredibly important declaration that our democracy lives for all of us to fight passionately another day for what we believe.

Will Tonight’s State of the Union Address 2012 Soar?

I’ve been critical of the President’s leadership in the past, and wrote this about a previous State of the Union address. But I’m rooting for him to be at his rhetorical and persuasive best tonight, not so much for his re- election prospects as for the good of the country.

Candidate Obama had a large vision during his campaign and it called us to our higher selves. In part his decisive 2008 victory was due to America’s exhaustion with George W. Bush. But a big factor was Obama’s vision and his promises to lead a progressive agenda once elected.

Instead, once elected, he focused on small vision projects and on doing deals rather than articulating the ideals that had propelled him into office. Tonight’s speech gives him a new opportunity– the last such chance he’ll have during this term–to give people that bigger vision and not just to say things that are safe. To come out swinging at the Republicans who have stopped every initiative he proposed without offering alternatives to do anything other than feather the nests of the wealthiest among us. To offer bold initiatives that address our biggest problems.

John F. Kennedy inspired a nation worried about our technological competitiveness when he said in defense of space exploration,“We do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard.

Obama needs to call us to do things that are hard if they are also for the good of the country. He’s got a chance to bring some sanity to the conversation, in contrast to the Republican greed and gridlock, and to set the agenda for public debate.

Regarding economic initiatives, which should certainly be front and center of his speech, it should be remembered that the economy overall is a women’s issue. When policies favor brick and mortar projects, a smaller percentage of women benefit because they are less likely to hold jobs in those fields. To be more competitive with China and other nations, we need to build up our intellectual infrastructure (60 percent of today’s college grads are women). More money should be invested in schools, libraries and social services where women will be working, and it will pay off in a workforce better prepared for the economy of the future. And of course, I hope the president will prioritize passing the Paycheck Fairness Act.

There’s much more of course. But then State of the Union addresses typically sound like verbal Christmas trees, loaded with gifts for various important constituencies. I’ll just touch on one more topic. I suggest that Obama should proactively take the credit for getting contraception almost universally covered in the health care plan because 95 percent of Americans use it and because it’s the right thing to do. The dollop of whipped cream with a cherry on top would be for him to place the Freedom of Choice Act back on the agenda. I’m not holding my breath but I can hold out hope.

And instead of letting the Republicans tar him with “Obamacare” as a negative label, he should embrace the controversy (No Excuses power tool #4!) as a badge of pride. A generation hence, most Americans will regard Obamacare as important to their lives as Medicare is to seniors today.

What are you hoping to hear from the president tonight?

Will he soar or fly under the radar?

Can he take the attention from the right wing Republicans battling it out for their nomination? Post your thoughts.

Leadership Lapses on Payroll Taxes

A political consultant who taught me lots about the workings of the lawmaking process when I was new to retail politics told me that politics is in the end all theater. Rarely has his analysis seemed as accurate as watching the House Republicans today try to justify holding American citizens in a state of suspended animation, wondering what’s going to happen to their paychecks next year or whether their unemployment check will continue to come. One aim of the Republicans is to get voters to hate government, and that seems to be the one thing they are succeeding at. So I found Politico’s question today a little facile, but I answered it anyway. I’d love to know what you think , please.

RejectedArena Asks: House Speaker John Boehner has predicted that the House will reject the Senate-passed payroll tax holiday bill during a vote today. The two-month package would extend rates on the payroll taxes that fund Social Security, unemployment benefits and Medicare by increasing certain home-mortgage fees.

If paychecks go down in January 2012, who will they blame: House Republicans, Senate Democrats, Congress in general or President Obama?

It’s clear that the Republicans orchestrated all of this. Why is there even a question?

You can argue for or against any of the various provisions in the bill, but the political theater we are witnessing is purely being staged so the Republicans can tell the Tea Party and corporate “person” funders that they went to the mat even if it means destroying what’s left of the middle class economy they’ve already squeezed dry.

The Republicans wouldn’t be able to get away with this behavior if President Obama had led the public debate more proactively. He and the Democrats would be in a vastly stronger position if they talked more about American ideals than they do about making deals. But in the end the Republicans must bear the responsibility for their own recalcitrance. That’s what’s grinding to a halt the wheels of lawmaking.