Twenty Women Senators on the Cliff

My name is Sue and I am a recovering counting addict. My obsession with counting began decades ago when a senseless war in Vietnam and injustice and violence at home caused me to pay more attention to all the wrong places our leaders were taking our country. I couldn't help but notice that none of those leaders wore lipstick and pantyhose (at least in public). And so I began to count the numbers of men and women in the news each day.

I couldn't help myself; it became an addiction. I would leaf through a daily paper or weekly magazine or turn on the nightly news, and I would start to count, often out loud, much to the annoyance of those around me. Page after page, story after story, every time there was a picture, I would mutter: boy, boy, boy, boy, boy, boy, boy... (then, suddenly)...girl! Then boy, boy, boy, boy, boy. I sometimes could go through an entire magazine or watch a news show and would not find a picture of a girl until the end where the stories of Hollywood starlets or the latest recipe appeared.

My counting mania peaked and valleyed and eventually, through intensive therapy, distractions of career and family, and the gradual changes in the world that brought more women into public life, the counting stopped. I was cured.

I worked with and for women leaders, was elected to local office myself, witnessed women running for president and vice president, and celebrated this past November when the number of women in the United States Senate rose from only two decades ago to 20!

Over the course of the last few months however, seemingly out of the blue, the counting started again. It was the fiscal cliff that did me in. Everyday the news coverage again was mostly of grumpy old men. Around a table, in front of a microphone, standing on the floor of the House and Senate or at the White House, we listened as they blah, blah, blahhed about how none of the other kids were playing nice, as the entire economic fabric of our country threatened to rip apart.

I started to obsess again about the absence of women in the picture. Where were the girls? Just when I feared that my own personal counting nightmare was about to take hold again, a clip from an interview by Diane Sawyer with the historic crop of 20 women senators gave me hope. When Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins said, "I think, if we were in charge of the Senate, and of the administration, that we would have a budget deal by now," there was a chorus of voices and heads nodding in agreement. Their message was crystal clear: If they were in charge, things would be different.

It's rare for any women leader to suggest openly that in some ways women might be more capable leaders than their male counterparts, but one does have to wonder: If these women were in charge, really in charge, would things be so different?

We've seen Senate gangs of six or eight come and go in the past, trying to broker one deal or another. Maybe now it is time for this gang of 20 Senate women to put their big boy pants on (or pantsuits!), step up to the cliff and be brave enough to test out Sen. Collin's supposition.

They don't need to ask anyone's permission. These are grown-ups, all of them, who have spent their careers taking on big challenges. Republicans and Democrats, from all parts of the country, with so much breadth of experience and talent that it is scary, this group includes an incoming chair of the powerful Appropriations Committee (Barbara Mikulski, D-MD), second and third term veterans (Susan Collins, R-ME, Mary Landrieu, D-LA, Debbie Stabenow, D-MI), a former governor, attorney general, and prosecutor (Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, Kelly Ayotte, R-NH, Clair McCaskill, D-MO) and a host of newcomers not burdened by knowing all the rules that seem to prevent the people's business from getting done.

Maybe these twenty women should climb into two or three of their own mini-vans and go off to a secret location for twenty days. They could even invite some women from the White House and the House of Representatives. They could all gather around somebody's homey kitchen table, and see if they could hammer out an agreement that would pull this country back from the fiscal abyss. If they were brave enough and successful enough, it could be a turning point for our country. And while it might not cure my counting addiction once and for all, after 20 days of news coverage, saturated with photos and stories of all these women, I'd be smiling as I counted: girl, girl, girl, girl...