You’re about to be inundated with TV shows about the sinking of the Titanic, which took place 100 years ago this April.
But there’s another 100-year anniversary this year deserving some notice: In November 1912, Kansas became the seventh state to guarantee women the right to vote.
It took a bit longer in Missouri, which ratified the 19th amendment — guaranteeingall
women the right to vote — in 1919.
The movement for women’s suffrage came in the middle of an extraordinary explosion of populist and progressive reforms at the beginning of the 20th century, reforms that define the political world we live in today. The federal income tax, primaries, petition rights, the Federal Reserve, and direct election of senators were all promoted as counterbalances to the perceived excesses of the Gilded Age.
Of all the reforms, the women’s vote was clearly the most important. It pried open the doors for women to run for office.
But it has taken awhile for that part of the bargain to be sealed, which is why this week I thought about the best politician I’ve ever covered — former Kansas Sen. Nancy Kassebaum, a Republican.
Kassebaum was the first woman elected to the Senate independent of her spouse, in 1978. She served for 18 years.
She was the most uncalculating office holder I’ve ever known — she told you exactly what she thought, regardless of the political implications. And she drove Sen. Bob Dole to distraction by occasionally straying from Republican orthodoxy, particularly on abortion, while working with Sen. Ted Kennedy on health care reform.
But she was reliably conservative on almost all tax and spending issues. Even so, the last time I talked with Kassebaum she guessed she would have little chance of winning a Republican primary today. Well, we agreed, Ronald Reagan might have a hard time winning a Republican primary today.
It’s the same point outgoing Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe, another Republican, made last week in announcing her retirement.
(Democratic moderates are equally endangered, by the way. Ask Sen. Joe Lieberman, who was drummed out of his party for supporting the Iraq war, or, for that matter, Hillary Clinton.)
Indeed, in 2012, you’re either an occupier or a tea partier, with no place in the middle to make a stand.
But you have to think that if our politics could find more room for the Kassebaums and the Snowes, we might have avoided, say, Rush Limbaugh’s birth-control rant last week, which was beneath contempt.
America’s politics often appear headed for disaster, like that big iron ship 100 years ago. Perhaps that’s because there aren’t many reasonable people left to warn us about that iceberg, dead ahead.