Could This be the Century of the Woman?

Richard Rubin
Attorney Richard Rubin has taught at the University of San Francisco, Berkeley and Golden Gate University, is a regular columnist for the Marin Independent Journal and was Chair of the California Commonwealth Club Board of Governors, 2017-2019.

As the party combatants continue their feuding with little sign of let-up unless Senate Republicans can muster the courage and House Democrats the restraint to head off an impending constitutional crisis, the future of the Republic as of now remains bleak.

For perhaps the first time in history it is two women—both Californians—who could be playing an over-sized role in the nation’s destiny.

One is House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, who is intent on undoing some of the damage being wrought by Donald Trump’s Implausible Presidency.

The other is the state’s junior Democratic Senator, Kamala Harris, who is taking up a fair share of the national spotlight as she begins a widely heralded quest to replace him.

If 1992 was the “year of the woman” when there were only six in the U.S. Senate, including the newly elected Californians, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, we may be entering the “century of the woman”.

Today, there are 23 woman Senators. As of January 2019, 102 women are also serving in the House of Representatives and their numbers are growing.

House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, has signaled that there is no fight too big for her to take on as she appears determined to assert the co-equal power of the legislative branch.

It was something the two men (both Republicans) who preceded her during the opening moments of the Trump era had failed abysmally to accomplish and we are in a very big muddle because of it.

In addition to holding an exalted position second only in line to the presidency, the San Francisco fire-breather has another advantage which Trump will never have—-Pelosi understands that even the most dysfunctional government in modern times must be able to govern.

That is a problem when the Executive branch is under the control of someone intent on undermining every institution vital to its workings including some such as the FBI, the CIA, and the Departments of State and Defense which are charged with protecting our national security.

We have entered a danger zone without precedent except perhaps for the Civil War period when a young nation was badly divided and in the waning moments of the Watergate crisis nearly five decades ago which drove Richard Nixon into resignation.

Worse damage was averted when a coterie of powerful Republican Senators—all men— led by Barry Goldwater prevailed on the disgraced president to step aside.

Today, enter Nancy Pelosi, Kamala Harris and a new generation of elected women representatives unwilling to play subordinate roles any longer.

Days ago, Pelosi called Trump’s bluff on keeping the federal government shut down—at least temporarily—forcing him to capitulate. It turns out that the occupant behind the Oval Office desk cannot give orders and assume everyone will simply fall in line.

While Trump was busy cooking up real estate deals and amassing a fortune that apparently led him to dreams of shiny towers in Moscow, Pelosi was mastering the lessons of hardball politics on the streets of Baltimore following in the footsteps of a savvy father and brother who both succeeded in politics.

Pelosi exported that knowledge to San Francisco—another scrappy city which saw the likes of former Mayor and California Assembly Speaker, Willie L. Brown, Jr. and the redoubtable former Mayor and continuing U.S. Senator, Dianne Feinstein, come to power.

Even amongst that formidable duo which once outranked her, Pelosi carved out a career perch from which she has never been shaken and in her second tour as Speaker stands poised to thwart the ambitions of an imperious president.

If Trump’s fading hopes of getting his border wall built with American taxpayer money ever had any chance of coming to fruition, Pelosi has made it clear it will not happen under her watch.

The prim lady in pink in no uncertain terms has told the blustery amateur in the White House who seems incapable of counting votes—it is non-negotiable.

Any road to compromise must now go through Pelosi’s office and the Democrats will have the upper hand in the chamber where all appropriation bills must originate.

What remains to be seen is whether she can exert sufficient leverage over an historically fractious caucus to let the Special Prosecutor, Robert Mueller, complete his work as the impeachment bells begin ringing ever louder.

That will be a challenge with findings of high crimes including conspiracy and collusion with a foreign adversary to subvert an American election, perjury, witness tampering and obstruction of justice closing in directly on the embattled president.

At the same time a new star is rising in California with aspirations herself of attaining the highest office.

Oakland native, Kamala Harris, defied the experts first when she won election as the state’s Attorney General and then as U.S. Senator.

She will join a crowded and growing field of Democratic hopefuls including other prominent women Senators, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Kirstin Gillibrand of New York and possibly Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.

Harris established her reputation as San Francisco’s no-nonsense District Attorney before moving on to Sacramento where she made her marks as an effective Attorney General.

In the recent confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice, Brett Kavanaugh, Harris’s prosecutorial skills were on full display in tough questioning of the nominee.

She is only the second woman of color to serve in the U.S. Senate, making sure that distinction would not go unnoticed by declaring her candidacy on Martin Luther King’s birthday. (The other was Illinois Sen. Carol Moseley Braun who served in the 1990s).

To be completely accurate, Harris was born to a Jamaican father and a South Asian (Indian) mother.

Given the unmistakable racist appeals emanating from this president, there is little doubt that these messages could be a major factor in the 2020 campaign which will feature men and women of color.

To cite just a few examples, in the notorious Charlottesville, Virginia incident last summer Trump labelled those marching alongside white supremacists as “very fine people,” for which he received an endorsement from former Ku Lux Klan leader, David Duke, which he chose never to disavow.

In 2016, in the fraud case being heard about the now shuttered Trump University, the president suggested U.S. District Court Judge, Gonzalo Curiel, could not be impartial “because of his Mexican heritage.” This brought the following response from then GOP House Speaker Paul Ryan, “Claiming a person can’t do the job because of their race is sort of like the textbook definition of a racist comment.”

Of course, Trump launched his campaign repeatedly promoting the lie that Barack Obama, the nation’s first black president, was born in Kenya.

If Harris can turn these aspersions to her advantage especially in the Southern states where overwhelming black support was a key to Obama’s two victories while attracting voters from the pivotal blue collar states that Hillary Clinton lost, she might have the makings of a winning coalition to grasp the nomination.

Of course, as Clinton, the prohibitive frontrunner demonstrated, the road to the presidency is not an easy one—and less so for women who have yet to break through the ultimate glass ceiling.

If Trump is his party’s nominee—and that is by no means guaranteed—Harris among all the contenders—men or women—could pose the most striking contrast.

Unless she takes an unconventional path, Harris will have to first weather an early obstacle course that starts in Iowa and then goes to New Hampshire—91% white states with strong conservative electorates that are not always kind to frontrunners.

The apparent decision by all the announced candidates to focus immediately on South Carolina—fourth up after the Nevada primary—will be potentially very consequential. African-Americans comprise 61 percent of the Democratic electorate in the Palmetto state and their enormous turn-out helped power Obama twice to victory.

A strong showing there followed soon after by California’s primary which is now moved up to March 3—so-called “Super Tuesday”—along for the first time with that of Texas will catapult Harris into a delegate lead that could make her tough to catch.

If she can do well in both of these huge, diverse, minority-voter rich states which together have 93 total electoral votes (55 in California and 38 in Texas), the road to the 270 votes needed to win begins to look achievable if there are no serious setbacks.

Numerous scenarios could play out that totally alter this picture. However, as of now two California women are dominating the headlines and one of them might just end up in the White House.

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