Year of the Woman


July 17, 1992|By CAROLYN BARTA

NEW YORK. — New york--The Republican administration may have won the battle with the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. But it launched all-out war in the process.

That was apparent at this Democratic National Convention, where one of the important subtexts is ''Year of the Woman.'' The anger inspired by the Thomas confirmation hearings has energized Democratic women to promote their own gender in political office as never before.

There's even a bright pink ''Getting It Gazette,'' published by women volunteers for other women at the convention.

The largest ever fund-raiser staged for and by women took place here Tuesday night when $750,000 was raised for seven U.S. Senate candidates by the women's fund-raising group, Emily's List. The women who filled one of New York's largest ballrooms were not, as conservative radio talk show host Russ Limbaugh would say, ''feminazis.'' They weren't bra burners in combat boots. They were well-dressed, middle- to upper-income women who plunked down $100 each to nibble hors d'oeuvres, drink wine or soda and hear women candidates speak.

But when the image of Justice Thomas was flashed on a giant screen, there was a chorus of boos from the audience, as at a melodrama when the villain appears. And when the picture of Anita Hill was shown, there was applause and cheers, as for the heroine.

If nothing else, the reminder of the Hill-Thomas episode gives women the opportunity to point to the all-male Senate Judiciary Committee and ask, ''What's wrong with this picture?''

What's wrong with the picture is that there are only two women in the entire U.S. Senate, one Democrat and one Republican. A minimum of four new women are expected to be elected and Democratic women see the outside possibility of electing seven, including lone incumbent Barbara Mikulski of Maryland.

The seven who will get the proceeds from the fund-raiser are Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, running for two different Senate seats in California; Geraldine Ferraro of New York; Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois; Josie Heath of Colorado; Lynn Yeakel of Pennsylvania, and Senator Mikulski.

Lynn Yeakel capitalized on the Thomas-Hill hearings with a TV commercial that said, ''Did this make you as angry as it made me?''

For Josie Heath, however, the defining moment for her entry into politics was not the Thomas hearings but the Senate debate over the war in the Persian Gulf. Watching from the gallery, she said, ''All I saw was that sea of suits, and I thought, when are the mothers going to join the fathers to decide whether our sons or daughters go to war.''

Throughout the week, the women candidates and officeholders here have stressed the need to elect more women because they bring a different perspective on the broader issues and because they have a family agenda that includes such issues as choice, health equity for women, unpaid parental leave, child care, full funding for Head Start and equal pay.

And the emphasis is not just on the Senate. Another fund-raiser was held Wednesday night for women running for Congress. Rep. Patsy Mink of Hawaii told the Women's Caucus there could be as many as 50 women in the U.S. House after November; today there are 29 out of 435. California alone has 16 women congressional candidates.

Women also have been energized because of the threat to abortion rights posed by a more conservative Supreme Court. And while Anita Hill declined to appear at this convention because she is a Republican, other Republican women who are pro-choice did appear on the program.

This also is a good year for women because of the large number of open seats, caused by redistricting and incumbents not seeking re-election, and because of the high level of voter anger over politics as usual. Women become the ultimate outsiders when politics as usual is defined as a process dominated by white males.

The Democrats have been showing off their bumper crop of female candidates this week in an effort to promote the party as the party of change, and because the presidential ticket wants to pick up whatever coattails -- should we say skirt-tails -- they can.

One Texan exhibited another expression of the ''Year of the Woman'' at this convention by wearing a bill cap that said: ''Vote for Hillary's husband for president.''

But regardless of what happens to Hillary's husband in the presidential race, one of the biggest political stories of the year will be the change in the makeup of the U.S. House and Senate to reflect more women.

Carolyn Barta is the viewpoints page editor of the Dallas Morning News.

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