The Show Must Go On in MinnesotaSeptember 03, 2008
Monday at the 2008 Republican National Convention was not what anyone expected, but the show did go on despite Hurricane Gustav’s wrath. While the official convention proceedings were shortened, other programs and events went on as planned — and protests were not derailed either. By day’s end, more than 200 people had been arrested in various protests associated with the convention.
My first order of business — indeed, a daylong event for AAUW — was the Future Frontrunners’ Summit. Sponsored by Lifetime Television, Cosmo Girl, Redbook, and Declare Yourself, the summit was part of the Every Woman Counts campaign. Like past years, AAUW is a key partner in the EWC campaign, and it was my privilege to speak at the summit about the importance of grassroots organizing. A similar event had been held in Denver at the 2008 Democratic National Convention; it is an intimate seminar for a handful of lucky, involved young women from around the country who are winners of a contest based on their entries answering the question, “What would I do if I were president?” Here are just a few of their answers:
- Increase public debate, and ensure that everyone understands their voice is important to the political process. Ensure good civic education, because the United States is the democratic role model to the world. “Voters who don’t care vote for leaders who don’t lead,” said one young woman.
- Transform education with hands-on learning, an emphasis on science and math, improved high school graduation rates, and better access to higher education.
- Take on the energy crisis and address global warming, investing in clean, alternative energy resources and technologies.
- Reduce the size of government, and make it work for the people.
To further inspire the summit’s participants, Declare Yourself displayed its original print of the Declaration of Independence. Remember that story a few years back about a copy of the precious document being found behind a painting bought at a flea market? Well, this was that copy — and Norman Lear, the benefactor of Declare Yourself, bought it for a cool $8 million.
Several members of Congress stopped by to share words of wisdom. They also received quite a grilling from the young women as well. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), the only female member of the West Virginia congressional delegation, talked about how proud she was to see women having a louder voice in the process. But she also worries about the excessive partisanship in Washington, something she thinks the constant, 24-hour news cycle has exacerbated: “We want a prosperous, safe country where everyone is treated equally. We have the same goal; where we differ is how to get there. So I started the Civility Caucus to present our differences in a bipartisan, civil way,” said Moore Capito.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rogers (R-WA), the Republican co-chair of the bipartisan Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues, also dropped by. She spoke about how thrilled she was with the selection of Gov. Sarah Palin (R-AK) as the party’s vice presidential nominee; the two women have much in common besides their conservative politics. They are both new mothers, and both have children with Down’s syndrome. McMorris Rogers said she thought it would be very helpful to have someone at the very highest reaches of government who understood such developmental disabilities.
Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) spoke about the importance of women’s leadership and about seeing past the traditional stereotypes. “Leadership is not as it appears; it is as it performs,” said Blackburn. “People want leaders who will get things done, and women excel at that.”
The young women were also treated to a visit from Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX), the highest-ranking Republican woman in the House. Granger has been a trailblazer — she was the first woman mayor of Fort Worth, and she strongly believes that women must help other women run for office. One of the participants asked her, quite directly, if being the highest-ranking woman gave Granger power. “Absolutely, and I use it every chance I get,” Granger fired back. “I am always reminding the guys that women are more than half the population!”
I had the privilege of having dinner with Rep. Granger later than evening, and she had fascinating stories to tell about her work with Iraqi women politicians. She led a delegation to meet with them and help them organize campaigns, and she has also had some of those same women shadow her here in the states. Because of a requirement for a fair gender ratio in the new Iraqi government, “in one vote, Iraq’s parliament literally doubled the number of women in their parliament compared with our Congress,” she said. Granger also told me about a great piece of advice former Gov. Ann Richards (D-TX) once gave her. Apparently, early in her political career, Richards came up to her and said, “Don’t you ever wear that suit again. You’re the only other woman in here, and you’re wearing a navy suite just like the guys. We’re women, and we can wear whatever we want.”
While President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney did not travel to St. Paul for their scheduled Monday night appearances, the official proceedings of the convention that afternoon included a special joint appearance by First Lady Laura Bush and potential First Lady Cindy McCain. Laura Bush came out first to say a few words and received an extended, very enthusiastic reception from the delegate body; indeed, she continues to be quite a popular figure no matter how her husband’s favorability ratings might have fluctuated over the last seven years.
The women encouraged everyone to come together behind the people of the Gulf Coast. Also appearing were four governors — via satellite — from the affected states, talking about the emergency preparations and how Americans could support the cleanup effort to come. The governors included Rick Perry (R-TX), Bob Riley (R-AL), veep-stakes also-ran Charlie Crist (R-FL), and Haley Barbour (R-MS), the former chair of the Republican National Committee and widely recognized for his handling of Mississippi’s cleanup after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. “You’re seeing Republican governors … doing a fabulous job of taking care of the citizens,” said Gov. Perry. “That’s what we do.”
Tuesday, the convention’s official proceedings and speechmaking get back on track — and back to hardball politics.