Looking at President Obama

The annual Gallup poll of the most admired man has just picked President Obama.  Even among Republicans he tied with Pope Francis.  But to hear some Republican elected officials and pundits, Barack Obama is the devil incarnate.  If he says the sky is a little cloudy, they will say it is clear.  So what is going on?  Are people finally catching on to what he has accomplished?  Are people starting to look beyond the media’s short attention span?  I don’t have any answers, but I know that the President has managed more than one could ever imagine given the Tea Party and solid Republican opposition to everything he proposes. Even people like Paul Krugman, who one would think would be a supporter, was not.  But Krugman has changed his mind and in October wrote a widely circulated defense.

When it comes to Barack Obama, I’ve always been out of sync. Back in 2008, when many liberals were wildly enthusiastic about his candidacy and his press was strongly favorable, I was skeptical. I worried that he was naive, that his talk about transcending the political divide was a dangerous illusion given the unyielding extremism of the modern American right. Furthermore, it seemed clear to me that, far from being the transformational figure his supporters imagined, he was rather conventional-minded: Even before taking office, he showed signs of paying far too much attention to what some of us would later take to calling Very Serious People, people who regarded cutting budget deficits and a willingness to slash Social Security as the very essence of political virtue.

I certainly haven’t agreed with everything Obama has proposed or done, but no one agrees with anyone else 100% of the time.  And there have been some scary moments.  Remember the “Grand Bargain”?  But we can list as accomplishments the Affordable Care Act, Dodd-Frank financial reform (despite the reluctance of Congress to fund the Consumer Protection Bureau and the recent gutting of the prohibitions on banks and derivatives.), the steady improvement of the economy (the only one in the world not on the verge of tanking again) and the ending of our combat roles in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  But I just don’t understand the continuous bashing by everyone.  Plus, I firmly believe that the mid-term elections would not have been quite so bad if the Democrats had had the guts to run on the President’s record.

Krugman writes

But now the shoe is on the other foot: Obama faces trash talk left, right and center – literally – and doesn’t deserve it. Despite bitter opposition, despite having come close to self-inflicted disaster, Obama has emerged as one of the most consequential and, yes, successful presidents in American history. His health reform is imperfect but still a huge step forward – and it’s working better than anyone expected. Financial reform fell far short of what should have happened, but it’s much more effective than you’d think. Economic management has been half-crippled by Republican obstruction, but has nonetheless been much better than in other advanced countries. And environmental policy is starting to look like it could be a major legacy.

I think one of the problems the President has is that he is a canvas on which each person paints the picture of what they want him to be.  Michelle Bachmann sees him as a non-Christian, non-American.  Cornel West thinks he is a ‘counterfeit progressive”, meaning, I guess a conservative in progressive clothing.  The problem is people do not look at facts.  And they certainly don’t understand the character of the man.  I found this description of him on the golf course very apt.

One of the golfers who played with Mr. Obama said the way the president carried himself on the course provided significant insight into his character.

“If you came down from Mars and saw his disposition on the golf course, you would think he would be a pretty good president,” the golfer said. “He’s honest, he keeps his composure through terrible adversity, he’s unruffled, he smiles, and he doesn’t quit.”

Obama

This is why after the mid-term elections, President Obama was able to have what Kevin Drum writing in Mother Jones magazine was able to call “a Hellava month”.  Drum lists his accomplishments during November and December.  Here are a few from his list.

  • November 11: Concluded a climate deal with China that was not only important in its own right, but has since been widely credited with jumpstarting progress at the Lima talks last week.

  • November 20: Issued an executive order protecting millions of undocumented workers from the threat of deportation.

  • November 26: Signed off on an important new EPA rule significantly limiting ozone emissions.

  • December 17: Announced a historic renormalization of relations with Cuba.

Plus a number of judicial and other nominees were approved by the Senate before they went home for the holidays. Jennifer Bendery explains in the Huffington Post.

If there’s one thing from 2014 that will define President Barack Obama’s legacy after he’s left the White House, it’s the number of lifetime judges he put on the federal bench.

In its final act of the year, the Senate blew through a dozen U.S. district court nominees on Tuesday night. That puts Obama at a whopping 89 district court and circuit court confirmations for the year, and means he’ll wrap up his sixth year in office with a grand total of 305 district court and circuit court confirmations — a tally that puts him well beyond where his predecessors were by this point in their presidencies.

It may be that, in the end, his biggest effect on the judiciary isn’t sheer numbers as much as the diversity of his judges. Forty-two percent of Obama’s confirmed judges are women, 19 percent are black and 11 percent are Hispanic, according to data provided by the White House. Eleven of his confirmed judges are openly gay or lesbian.

Even the 12 nominees confirmed Tuesday night will make a mark: Robert Pitman will be the first openly gay judge to serve in the Fifth Circuit, which includes Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. Loretta Biggs will be the first black woman to serve as a district judge in North Carolina.

The most interesting part of the nominee confirmation story is that the last were made possible by Senator Ted Cruz who probably had no idea what he was doing.

Democrats spent the final days of the lame duck thanking Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) for inadvertently helping to expedite votes on Obama’s nominees. On Friday, Cruz derailed a plan by party leaders to leave for the weekend and come back Monday in an effort to force a show vote on Obama’s immigration executive action. The stunt kept senators in session all day Saturday, with hours to kill. So, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) used the time to tee up votes for the 12 district court nominees still on the calendar.

With two years to go, I don’t think any of us should write President Obama off as a “lame duck”.  He seems to be freed by not having to run for office again.  We all need to stay tuned to see what he does next.

Photograph:  Uncredited from Mother Jones.

 

 

Some cartoonists view the 2014 mid-term election

There are some great cartoons this Sunday on the President and the mid-terms.  Here are a few.

First from Signe Wilkinson

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Another view of the President and Congress from Nick Anderson.

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And my favorite from Stuart Carlson.

 

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I have to think that President Obama is expecting the Republican Congress to erect roadblocks and force him to veto some of their legislation (like repealing the Affordable Care Act), but I’m not sure there are many Republicans left who understand that their job is to actually govern.  We shall see.

Anger, fear, and violence

People made fun of President Carter when he spoke of a national malaise.  I’m not sure we were in one back then, but I’d say we are sure in one today.  Everyone seems tired.  The upcoming election is very important, but many can’t get up enough energy to decide to vote.  But added to the tiredness is anger.   You can see it in what is said about the President, in the disrespect shown him and the office.  You can see it in the fear about Ebola.  You can see it in the increased racial tension in Missouri and elsewhere.  You can see it the attempts to restrict voting.  I see the fear of “the other” manifesting as anger.  But you can also see it in the anger against women.

Jessica Valenti had a piece in the Guardian the other day, “Why are Men so Angry?”.  I’ve been thinking about it since I first came across it.  She begins

There’s a Margaret Atwood quote that I can’t get out of my head these days: “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.”

Last Friday, a young man from Washington state walked into his high school cafeteria and shot five people, killing one young woman. Early reports from other students indicate that the shooter, who reportedly shot himself, was upset over a girl. In early October, Mary Spears was shot to death in Detroit, allegedly by a man whose advances she rejected at a social club. In April, a Connecticut teen stabbed his classmate to death when she rejected his prom invitation. Turning men down is a risky business.

But the madness doesn’t stop there. From Gamergate to mass shootings todomestic violence and the NFL – the common denominator is male rage. Women are not committing most acts of mass and individual violence, nor are women lobbing out most death threats online or raping most college students. Violence – and the threat of it – remains a decidedly male domain.

But why are men so violently angry?

I believe that it is the same kind of fear that drives the fear of the racially other.  When it comes to women, it is fear of losing some perceived superiority.  Valenti puts it this way

Is it the fear that women’s progress means a loss of all that shiny male privilege? That our society is a zero sum game and power can’t be shared? Maybe some men’s anger stems from good old-fashioned misogyny, which is then stoked by political, social and cultural forces that say there’s nothing lower in this world than a woman so how dare she … well, anything. Or perhaps that anger at women comes from straight-up entitlement: the men who believe that women are meant to be there for them, whether it’s to wash their toilets or warm their beds, and that denying them access to us is an unthinkable affront.

But it’s no coincidence that anti-feminist backlash happens most often when women’s rights are on an upswing. And male anger towards women isn’t going anywhere – if anything, it’s gaining steam. Online forums that provide anonymity are creating spaces for men to say the things they no longer can in “real life”, police and courts that disbelieve and blame women for the violence done to them give men the impression their bad behavior is acceptable and a conservative movement that refuses to let go of traditional gender roles teaches our children that being a man is synonymous with being “tough”, having guns and, yes, being violent.

domestic_violence_awareness_ribbon

I’m old enough to remember when no one talked about violence against women.  We were just beginning to recognize domestic violence and create shelters.  The concepts of sexual harassment and date rape were just being named.  Rape was beginning to be taken seriously.  Now we have special months, ribbons, and rape is generally depicted as a crime of violence.  So it makes me tired to think that after all these decades that we are still trying to figure out how to deal with male violence.  (And before someone complains that women can be violent also, yes they can be.  But the vast majority of violent incidents are perpetrated by men.)

Valenti concludes

If we want to put a dent in male anger and the chaos it creates, we need to stop looking at problems like sexual assault, harassment, domestic violence and even violent threats online and assigning their solutions to feminists. We need to stop calling them “just women’s issues”. We have to address men and men’s behavior together – not just their direct violence against women, but their propensity to protect their own. Not the outcomes of their rage, but the causes. Because, until we do, we’ll continue to be afraid. All of us.

I think she is right, but I worry that the conversation about male violence will be like the national dialog on race which everyone talks about but no one knows how to begin.  I’m not sure I know how to talk to the person who still believes that President Obama is really Kenyan, much less talk to someone to wants to commit violence against me to keep me in my place.

 

 

 

Police departments and racial diversity

Back in the dark ages, that is the early to mid-1980s, I worked on a study for then Virginia Governor Charles Robb.  He wanted to know several things including how we could recruit more African-Americans and women to the State Police and how, once we hired them, they could be retained.  I can’t recall that we came up with anything one wouldn’t have expected including things like more training for command in diversity issues.  I do remember one black trooper I interviewed had an idea on how to recruit people.  He suggested that he be made part of the Governor’s security detail which would provide lots of visibility.  I told the Governor and the next thing I knew, the trooper was thanking me when we ran into each other on the Capitol grounds.  I have no idea if his presence helped recruit more blacks to the ranks or not but it did provide some visibility and I remember that the Capitol Police then hired several black officers.

So my little story took place in 1983.  This morning’s New York Times has some very interesting charts on large Metropolitan police departments and the differences between their racial compositions and those of the towns they serve.

In hundreds of police departments across the country, the percentage of whites on the force is more than 30 percentage points higher than in the communities they serve, according to an analysis of a government survey of police departments. Minorities make up a quarter of police forces, according to the 2007 survey, the most recent comprehensive data available. Experts say that diversity in the police force increases a department’s credibility with its community. “Even if police officers of whatever race enforce the law in relatively the same way, there is a huge image problem with a department that is so out of sync with the racial composition of the local population,” said Ronald Weitzer, a sociologist at George Washington University. Listed below are local police departments from 15 metropolitan areas, sorted so that departments with the largest percentage-point differences of white officers to white residents are at the top.

We clearly have a long way to go.  I wonder if part of the recruitment problem is the sheer number of young black and Hispanic men who have conviction records.  Perhaps we should look into that.

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I was interested to see that Boston (+18) and Somerville (+15) were doing pretty well.  Those are two of the police departments I’ve worked with in the recent past.  Other departments should take a look at this chart and talk to some of the successful agencies – and I don’t mean towns that have a small gap because the population of the town itself is mostly white – and learn from what they have done.

Incidents like the shooting in Ferguson don’t happen in a vacuum.  Look up a town near you and ask questions if you don’t like what you see.

 

 

As a footnote:  While I was looking to a picture to add, I was surprised at the number of stock photographs showing police in riot gear and/or arresting someone, often a black male.  Just another part of the problem.

Photograph:  how2becomeanfbiagent.com

As the dust settles

on the first enrollment period of the new Affordable Care Act, we are learning that a lot more people than a lot of people predicted have signed up for insurance.  President Obama is claiming 7.1 million people signed up on the health insurance exchanges – along with unknown numbers of others who signed up directly with insurance companies.  There was a claim yesterday that 90% of the enrollees had actually paid a first premium, a crucial step to being able to actually use the insurance.  We all know that there will be hassles when people go to their medical provider, when insurance cards don’t arrive in the mail, when someone with expanded Medicaid goes to a doctor who doesn’t accept that plan, but then, there have always been hassles with health insurance.  This will be nothing new.  What will be new is the massive number of new people suddenly looking for a provider.  Adjustments will have to be made all around.

But the biggest losers as of this morning would seem to be the opponents of the ACA or Obamacare as they call it.  Here is Dan Wasserman’s cartoon from this morning’s Boston Globe.

obamacare wasserman

 

And then there is this story from Politico.

Back in the fall, conservatives seized on the flubbed Obamacare rollout as proof that President Barack Obama’s brand of liberalism doesn’t work.

Now, the law’s opponents aren’t about to say that critique was wrong — but they’ve lost the best evidence they had.

On Tuesday, Obamacare sign-ups passed 7 million, six months after the launch of a federal website that could barely sign up anybody. There are still a lot of questions about how solid that figure is, but the idea that the law could even come close to the original goal after such a disastrous start would have been laughable even a few weeks ago.

That’s left the critics questioning the early numbers or changing the subject. It’s a reminder that the attacks on the website were more than complaints about technology, but a proxy for a much deeper argument about what government should do and what it can’t do

But the Republicans do seem to be suffering from a compulsion disorder.  Here is Representative Paul Ryan quoted in the Politico story

And House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, who on the same day released a budget plan that would repeal the law, wasn’t fazed by the enrollment news.

“I think Obamacare is a slow-rolling fiasco. I think it’s a Pyrrhic victory,” the Wisconsin lawmaker said during a conference call with reporters Tuesday, at the same time that Obama was giving his victory speech in the Rose Garden.

But it was so much easier when they could just say the federal government can’t tie its own shoelaces. Now, they have to acknowledge that the government fixed the problem — and enrollment came roaring back.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal is set to release his health care plan – I guess he is running for President.  According to the Washington Post

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal will announce Wednesday a plan to repeal and replace President Obama’s health-care law, an effort by the Republican to insert himself into the increasingly competitive early maneuvering for his party’s presidential nomination.

In his 26-page plan, Jindal lays out a lengthy critique of the health law — which he refers to throughout as “Obamacare” — and reiterates his belief that it needs to be entirely done away with. In its place, he sets forth a bevy of ideas that have run through conservative thought for years, in some cases renaming them and in other cases suggesting new variations on old themes.

These themes appear to include giving those on Medicare a subsidy to buy private insurance and giving Medicaid money to the states to provide whatever care they decide on.  I have a feeling that this every-state-for-itself  idea will be proven to be a real problem as people in states that didn’t accept the expanded Medicare under the ACA are faced with citizens who won’t understand why Uncle Charlie can get health insurance subsidies and they can’t.  I don’t think this is a plan people will go for – especially after they get a feel for what is covered under ACA – but at least Jindal has something.

President Obama’s poll numbers are creeping up.  Democrats running for re-election would do well to be cautious about running away from the ACA, and optimistic me says that Nate Silver might just be wrong this time with is prediction that the Republicans have the edge in the mid-terms.  It won’t be easy for the Democrats:  They have to turn out their base in larger numbers than is usual for a mid-term, but it can be done.  Nate did favor Duke which lost in the first round of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

Random thoughts on the state of the world on the first day of spring

Today, the first day of spring, is warmish outside.  I think it actually broke 50!  We had a few hours of sun, but now it is mostly cloudy.  I finally purchased John Grisham’s “Sycamore Row”.  I had been resisting but succumbed because I loved “A Time to Kill” and I ended up getting 45% off the cover price.  Don’t know if a new Grisham is a sign of spring or not, but I’m going to take it as one.

It is hard for me to concentrate on much the last few days.  There is just too much news! Between the missing Malaysian airliner, Crimea, and worrying about the Democrats retaining Congress in the fall, things are pretty depressing even for someone who tends to be an optimist.

Unfortunately, I think that time ran out a long time ago for the passengers on the airliner and now all we can do is watch as the world tries to locate the remains of the plane and the black box.  While everyone points out that they did eventually find the Air France plane that went down in the Atlantic, it was very difficult even though we had a much better of idea of where it went down.  I see the families on television and wonder what I would feel if I just didn’t know what happened.  At this point one almost has to treat it as a forensic mystery to be solved.

I don’t think we are on the verge of a war over Russia and the Crimea, but I do think that things will be difficult internationally for a while.  This will affect negotiations in Iran and Syria as well as people in the Ukraine and Crimea.  But the ultimate losers may be the Crimeans.  David M. Herszenhorn had an article in the New York Times yesterday which pointed out that the troubles there may just be starting.

Many A.T.M.s in this sun-dappled seaside resort city in Crimea, and across the region, have been empty in recent days, with little white “transaction denied” slips piling up around them. Banks that do have cash have been imposing severe restrictions on withdrawals.

All flights, other than those to or from Moscow, remain canceled in what could become the norm if the dispute over Crimea’s political status drags on, a chilling prospect just a month before tourist season begins in a place beloved as a vacation playground since czarist times.

He points out that Ukraine could cut off electricity and water supplies and that there is no direct overland route between Crimea and Russia.  The story ends with this

Some Crimeans said they were already feeling the financial sting from political instability.

As crowds in the cities of Simferopol and Sevastopol held raucous celebrations well into Monday morning after the vote, here in Yalta, Ihor B., the owner of a small travel business, went to bed with a growing sense of dread: The roughly two dozen bookings that he had received since the start of the year had all disappeared.

“I got 10 requests from Germany, and 10 assignments from Ukrainian agencies for Western tourists; a couple of requests from Dutch tourists and cruise ships,” said Mr. B, who asked that his last name not be used for fear of reprisal by the new Russian government. “At the moment, all of them, absolutely all of them, are canceled.”

In the same issue of the Times was a long cautionary story about South Ossetia which was liberated from Georgia five years ago.  But things have moved on and South Ossetia is not doing very well.

When Russia invaded Georgia, repelling a Georgian attack on South Ossetia and taking control of the separatist enclaves of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, it seemed most unlikely that the Kremlin was thinking about long-term consequences.

As in Crimea, the war was presented to Russians as a humanitarian effort to protect its citizens, and more broadly as a challenge to encirclement by the United States, which was aligned with Georgia. Television stations gave the intervention blanket coverage, and it was wildly popular in Russia, lifting the approval ratings of Dmitri A. Medvedev to the highest point of his presidency.

The aftermath of recognition, however, has presented Russia with a long series of headaches. This week, economists have warned repeatedly that Crimea, if it is absorbed, will prove a serious drag on Russia’s budget, but their arguments have been drowned out in the roar of public support for annexation.

Aleksei V. Malashenko, an analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center, said Russian officials “will be shocked” with the challenges they face when trying to manage Crimea — reviving its economy, distributing money and influence among its ethnic groups, and trying to control the corruption that accompanies all big Russian projects. And, judging from precedent, the public’s euphoria will fade, he said.

“I think that in Russia, the majority of the society forgot about Ossetia, and if it weren’t for the Olympics, the majority of the society would also forget about Abkhazia,” Mr. Malashenko said. “Of course, Crimea is not Ossetia. But anyway, the popularity of Crimeans, and the Crimean tragedy, will be forgotten in a year.”

So maybe we don’t need to do anything except some sanctions and make sure that Russia and Putin’s next move is not to march into eastern Ukraine.  Forget John McCain’s mockery and advice.

As for domestic politics, I recalled Andrew Sullivan’s March 13th blog entry on The Dish. The Boring, Relentless Advance Of Obama’s Agenda.  To read the entire piece one has to subscribe [which I would encourage you to do], but here is his conclusion.

…One side is theater – and often rather compelling theater, if you like your news blonde, buxom and propagandized. The other side is boring, relentless implementation. At any one time, you can be forgiven for thinking that the theatrics have worked. The botched roll-out of healthcare.gov, to take an obvious example, created a spectacular weapon for the GOP to hurl back at the president. But since then, in undemonstrative fashion, the Obama peeps have rather impressively fixed the site’s problems and signed up millions more to the program. As the numbers tick up, the forces of inertia – always paramount in healthcare reform – will kick in in defense of Obamacare, and not against it. Again, the pattern is great Republican political theater, followed by steady and relentless Democratic advance.

Until the theater really does create a new majority around Republican policies and a Republican candidate, Obama has the edge. Which is to say: he has had that edge now for nearly six years. Even if he loses the entire Congress this fall, he has a veto. And then, all he has to do is find a successor able to entrench his legacy and the final meep-meep is upon us. And that, perhaps, is how best to see Clinton. She may not have the stomach for eight years in the White House, and the barrage of bullshit she will have to endure. But if you see her as being to Barack Obama what George H.W. Bush was to Reagan, four years could easily be enough. At which point, the GOP may finally have to abandon theater for government, and performance art for coalition-building.

Plus, it is spring.

Mutts by Patrick McDonnell

Mutts by Patrick McDonnell

Anita Hill and Sandra Fluke: Does 20 years really make a difference?

Tonight while I was surfing around looking for updates on the Malaysian jet still missing somewhere between Malaysia and Vietnam – or perhaps somewhere else – I happened upon a long story in the New York Times about the new documentary about Anita Hill.  Sheryl Gay Stolberg’s review of the movie is actually a long profile of Hill.  I’m very happy that Hill allowed the documentary to be made because it means that a whole new generation of young men and women will be introduced to a remarkable person.

Back then there was no social media, no Facebook, no Twitter but the word still spread quickly among women that someone was about to accuse a nominee for the United States Supreme Court of sexual harassment.  No one knew exactly who she was, but we knew this was going to be important.  I was in Washington, D.C. that day at a meeting, but I remember sitting in a bar that afternoon with several other women all of us transfixed by what was happening on the television.  I was astounded that none of the men, and the Judiciary Committee was all white men, had any clue.  Stolberg puts it this way

“I think this event changed the course of her life and gave her a public mission that she took on,” said Fred Lawrence, the Brandeis president and a Yale Law School classmate of Ms. Hill’s. “It’s not a duty that she volunteered for, but I think she understood that the circumstances had put her in a unique role, and gave her a voice.”

The hearings were a surreal spectacle, as senators prodded an obviously uncomfortable Ms. Hill through awkward testimony about penis size, pubic hair and a pornographic film star known as Long Dong Silver — shocking public discourse at the time. When the hearings ended, Ms. Hill returned to teaching commercial law at the University of Oklahoma, trying, as she says in the film, to find “a new normal.” It proved difficult.

Ms. Hill at the hearings.

Ms. Hill at the hearings.

And I think every women who watched the hearings remembers that electric blue suit.

There were thousands of letters of support, but also death threats, threats to her job. Conservative state lawmakers wanted her fired; fortunately, she had tenure. Even years later, she felt “a discomfort,” she said. One dean confided that he had tired of hearing colleagues at other schools remark, “Isn’t that where Anita Hill is?”

In Washington, her testimony reverberated. Sexual harassment claims shot up. “Our phones were ringing off the hook with people willing to come forward who had been suffering in silence,” said Marcia D. Greenberger, founder and co-president of the National Women’s Law Center in Washington, where Ms. Hill serves on its board.

Congress passed a law allowing victims of sex discrimination to sue for damages, just as victims of racial discrimination could. Waves of women began seeking public office. In 1991, there were two female senators. Today there are 20.

Clarence Thomas was confirmed even though, as Hill puts it

“I believe in my heart that he shouldn’t have been confirmed,” she said in a recent interview, acknowledging that it irritates her to see Justice Thomas on the court. “I believe that the information I provided was clear, it was verifiable, it was confirmed by contemporaneous witnesses that I had talked with. And I think what people don’t understand is that it does go to his ability to be a fair and impartial judge.”

And there are still those who believe she made the whole story up. Then I started thinking about a more recent woman’s experience with Congress. This is from a story in the Daily Beast.

Rep. Darrell Issa’s Thursday hearing went off the rails early. “What I want to know,” demanded Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-NY, as she looked at the all-male panel of clerics before her, “is, where are the women?”

The hearing, titled “Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State. Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience,” was about religious freedom, Issa said, but it took place against the backdrop of a national controversy regarding the White House’s mandate that all employers provide birth control as part of their insurance plans.

As it happens, there was one woman present prepared to testify on the issue of birth control. Sandra Fluke, a 30-year-old Georgetown University Law School student, had been contacted earlier in the week by committee minority leaders after Democrats saw a video of her speaking about the mandate at the National Press Club on February 9.

Sandra Fluke

Sandra Fluke

Congress had a woman to ask the question, but the panel was all men.  Fluke went on to testify at an informal hearing arranged by Democratic women.  The Huffington Post described it this way

This week she received almost rock-star treatment as the lone witness at an unofficial Democratic-sponsored hearing. While the rest of the Capitol was mostly empty, Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, three other Democrats and dozens of mainly young women supporters crowded into a House office building room to applaud Fluke as she spoke of the importance of reproductive health care to women.

Prominently displayed by Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., was a photo of five religious leaders, all men and all appearing at the invitation of the Republican majority, testifying last week with Fluke visible in the background, sitting in the visitors’ section.

Democrats pounced on that image of a hearing discussing contraceptive rights being dominated by men while the one person Democrats had asked to appear on the witness stand, a woman, was turned away. Pelosi, D-Calif., said they had since heard from 300,000 people urging that women’s voices be heard on the issue.

“We almost ought to thank the chairman for the lack of judgment he had,” in denying a seat to Fluke, Pelosi said.

Committee chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., had said at last week’s hearing that the panel’s focus was on whether the administration policy was a violation of religious freedom. He said at the time that Fluke, invited by Democrats in her capacity as former head of Georgetown Law Students for Reproductive Justice, was not qualified to speak on the religious rights question.

“I’m an American woman who uses contraceptives,” Fluke said, when asked Thursday by Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., about her qualifications to speak on the issue.

So maybe we have made progress in the years since Anita Hill.  Some Republican men don’t seemed to have learned much, but there were plenty of woman and men in Congress who wanted to hear Fluke’s testimony.  And we can thank Anita Hill for her part in making change happen.

Photograph of Anita Hill: American Film Foundation

Photograph of Sandra Fluke:  Getty Images

Daily Beast story: Matthew DeLucca

Huffington Post story: Jim Abrams