Jan Scruggs
Memorial founder

Jan Scruggs

Founder and president of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund.

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Ability wins the day

Q: The number of women ambassadors to the U.S. has grown dramatically in recent years -- a phenomenon that some attribute to female U.S. Secretaries of State, particularly Hillary Clinton. How important are trailblazers to the sucess of others? And if they are important, why didn't an earlier generation of women leaders like Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi or British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher lead to a surge of women in positions of political power?

Great leaders in a democracy succeed because they are true leaders and the political timing is right. Politics has benefited from the presence of talented women over the years, but their leadership did not lead to an immediate surge of women in these positions because our society was simply not ready for it.

Golda Meir, Israel's prime minister from 1969 to1974, was a trailblazer before Indira Gandhi and Margaret Thatcher. And even before that, Maine Republican Sen. Margaret Chase Smith blazed a trail of her own. She was the first woman to have her name placed in nomination for the U.S. presidency at a major party's convention -- in 1964. The nomination that year went to Barry Goldwater, and it wasn't until the most recent election that that a woman came close to securing a major party's nomination.

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is not the first woman to run for vice president: Geraldine Ferraro preceded her by running in 1984 on the Democratic ticket with Walter Mondale. But, while few people talked of Ferraro as a presidential candidate in her own right after her failed vice presidential bid, the "Palin for President" drumbeat is already being heard.

Palin and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have many differences, but they share this quality: the courage to face the slings and arrows that are part of being an elected official and come back to fight another day.

It is easy to complain about politicians. It is really tough to be one. Benazir Bhutto was the first female prime minister of a Muslim nation -- a huge accomplishment. When she returned to run again, she fully understood the risks. An assassin took her life in 2007.

At this point in America's history, a person's abilities as a leader, campaigner and strategist will win the day. Race and gender are less relevant than ever -- thankfully.

By Jan Scruggs  |  January 28, 2010; 12:04 AM ET  | Category:  women Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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I agree with Jan Scruggs. The key words in his article are "political timing'. As a retired Army Officer I remember the days when women were kept in separate units (Women's Army Corps)and did mostly administrative and medical duties. Now we have women flag officers and members of congress. My own daughter was an Air Force officer and is now a successful women's rowing coach in Colorado. Thanks to title IX several of her women rowers now get college scholarships that were only awarded to male athletes in the past. Jan cited many examples of today's women who are proven leaders but they had to be given a chance. That is where "political timing" comes in to play.

Posted by: AnthonyFasolo | January 29, 2010 3:25 PM
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