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Kunin: Courage and Compromise

There are only twenty women in the 100 member United States Senate, but by gosh, they are showing political courage, not to mention, common sense. Republican Susan Collins of Maine led the charge to forge a Senate compromise to end the government shut down and raise the debt ceiling. It finally worked.

She was joined by Republican Senators Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. One reason the painful stand- off lasted this long was that many Republicans were scared to death of opposition from the right. Simply put, if they voted for any compromise, they might not get re-elected.

Murkowski put it best, “I would say to my Republican colleagues in the House and to some in this chamber, it’s time for a reality check. Politics be damned.”

We always thought we would have to wait until women comprised thirty percent of any organization to make a difference. Wrong. Twenty percent can do it, especially if they are in the right place. Women comprised about half of the 13 Senators who developed the compromise framework in the Senate. So thanks to the men who compromised as well.

But what made these Senate women effective? Perhaps they were more likely to leave their party labels at the door when they met together socially and when they worked together regularly on small bills.

This week, they have shown a great capacity for compromise & a desire to avoid the fight.

I recall that when I was a Vermont legislator, I hated the end of the session because that’s when all the fights broke out between the House and the Senate, and between political parties. I mentioned that to Senator Bob Bloomer, who was President of the Senate. “I love it, “he said, with a broad smile. “I love to fight.”

I’m a fighter. I’ve fought for election. I fight for more women to become active in politics, but I also believe in compromise. My job as a mother of four was to avoid fights and if they occured, break them up as soon as possible. 'I don't care who shoved who first. Stop it!' And they usually did.

The Senate women worked together and demonstrated empathy for those who have been hurt by the shut down. They focused on nurture. They focused on results and that was how this game was played.

Yes, there are women who don't fit this benovolent model - and some of them do hold positions of power.

But we don’t need 100% female involvement to make a difference. If a significant majority of women can reach a bi-partisan compromise they shine the torchlight for others. Sometimes, even politicians, have to say, “Politics be damned,” and do what is right for the American people.

A good enough reason, I believe, to elect more women.

Madeleine May Kunin is a former governor of Vermont, and author of "The New Feminist Agenda, Defining the Next Revolution for Women, Work and Family," published by Chelsea Green.
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