“The first lady is, and always has been, an unpaid public servant elected by one person: her husband.”
Lady Bird Johnson’s words sound dated at a time when the U.S. Senate includes one former first lady who is a formidable presidential candidate and one would-be first lady whose husband was a vice president and presidential nominee.
Dated, yes, and ironic in that Lyndon B. Johnson was able to launch his fabled political career on the strength of Lady Bird’s business acumen and money.
We’ll never know whether Claudia Alta Taylor would have become an influential public figure in her own right had she grown up a couple of generations later, but we know from her record that she had considerable skills, and we know from the words quoted above that she understood American women’s limited horizons.
While many will argue, with reason, that those limitations have not been eliminated, there nevertheless has been an enormous social transformation. Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Dole, Condoleezza Rice, Chris Gregoire, Patty Murray, Cathy McMorris Rodgers. Strong, independent women are no strangers to political influence.
Barriers of gender, race and creed are crumbling, benefiting American society the same way racial integration elevated the quality of athletic competition. Consider, for example, whether the legendary baseball pitchers of the 1920s and ‘30s would have had as much success if they’d had to face the Jackie Robinsons, Hank Aarons and Ichiro Suzukis of their day.
Inclusiveness has revolutionized sports for millions of fans, and it can do so for politics. With the security and prosperity of the nation at stake, we can’t afford to limit our options. Can you imagine, in this era, a presidential Cabinet composed entirely of white males? Would you want to?
Yet you still see people sneer at diversity initiatives as though they benefit only women, minority group members and others who traditionally were underrepresented. In fact, such efforts benefit the quality of government by enlarging the pool of resources.
In politics as in baseball, expanding individual opportunity also expands social capacity and competence, which is good for everyone.