Monday, October 21, 2013

The Senate Isn't Really an "Old Boys Club" Any More

I can understand why Mark Tracy was annoyed by the hype about the role of Susan Collins in settling the shutdown, but his takedown is really an overreaction.

Tracy notes that there are still only 20 women in the Seante. True! On the other hand, he claims that "11 of the top 12 Senate officials are men." But he's apparently counting (his link) the VP and the president pro tempore; the latter is a symbolic designation, while the VP isn't even a Senator, and really doesn't have a role in the Senate at all most of the time. I think he's also counting Harry Reid twice, for whatever that's worth. So it's really one of nine in party leadership positions. I suppose whether that's different than one of 12 is a judgement call, but might as well start with the right number.

Moreover, it's not really clear that the extended party leadership is the right place to look, anyways. That same page Tracy cites shows that women are chairs of the Senate committees on Appropriations, Budget, Agriculture, Environment and Public Works, Small Business, and Intelligence (also Ethics, Indian Affairs, and Joint Economics). Those are important, substantive, positions; women aren't quite chairs of half the Senate committees, but it's a third of the regular standing committees plus the most important (Intelligence) of the others.

Indeed, while Tracy's initial version of the shutdown story is about how "all the important players" were men, he acknowledges at the tail end that Patty Murray and Barbara Mikuski were in fact key figures.

One more point. What's missing in Tracy's account is the most important factor: party. It's pretty straightforward; when Democrats are in the majority, women are going to be important. After all, 16 of the (about to be) 55 Democrats are women.

Which gets to what's really important: the reason that the key players on the Republican side were men is because all but four Republican Senators are men. And since women are also overrepresented among the relatively moderate Republicans, it's even less likely that they'll be involved in cutting a deal which needed mainstream conservatives on board.

It's true that the Collins compromise was pretty much irrelevant to resolving the shutdown. But while there's still a long way to go to parity, it's really not fair to say that the Senate is still an old boys' club. It's not 1990 any more.

3 comments:

  1. He's also overlooking the recent retirements of Hutchison and Snowe, and the defeat of Lincoln. All were/had been committee chairs, and Hutchison was fourth-ranking Policy Chair in the GOP leadership.

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  2. Have we accumulated enough data to know whether women politicians, particularly Senators, accumulate more seniority than men? Somehow it seems they are, but that may be me.

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    1. I don't think so - remember, the first real wave wasn't until the 1990s.

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