Giffords, Green and Role Models
"Smart girls have more fun." — Aaron Sorkin, accepting the Golden Globe for best screenplay for ?The Social Network?
Christina Taylor Green was age 9 when she was killed in Tucson, Ariz., on Jan. 8. She was a smart girl — who had no reason to expect violence that Saturday in a public square of democracy.
Christina, who was involved with student council, dancing, swimming and Little League baseball, was excited about meeting her congresswoman. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, 40, is a talented Democratic up-and-comer, with a lot going on in her life, as well.
Giffords had just read the First Amendment on the floor of the "People's House." She is known for reaching out to her constituents and House colleagues — with a warmth beyond the usual affability. She wed a Navy captain and astronaut a few years ago, making her the only member of Congress married to someone on active duty.
Her political career is very much in the making. She represents a new kind of cool.
The ties between that American girl and woman in the tragedy are clear. They could be mirror images — reflecting dreams and capabilities of two generations born in different centuries. By their birth dates, they could have been mother and daughter.
Giffords, with her spark and position in public life, beckoned to Christina?s imagination — which may be why the girl pressed to go to the "Congress on Your Corner," a no-frills event in a Safeway parking lot. Talk about direct democracy — this was a long way from the grandeur of the House floor.
It's important that Christina wanted to meet her congresswoman face-to-face. That may have been one reason she was especially excited about meeting Giffords — the only female member of Congress from her largely red state.
A congressman would be fine — OK, but not the same.
President Barack Obama, in his moving tribute to the victims, talked of Christina looking forward to meeting a leader who was "good and important" and could be a "role model." As the father of two daughters, he showed insight into how a young girl?s mind works.
Whether the shooter had a streak of misogyny is a question to be considered. Whether the girl got to meet her public servant, to shake her hand, that's a hope that's died. Obama eulogized Christina as "so curious, so trusting, so full of magic. So deserving of our love."
It's still a relatively recent thing in the United States for girls to look up to real-life women lawmakers. Even now, just 16 percent of the 435 voting House members are women.
When Giffords was growing up, women were scarcer still. The first election year she could cast a ballot, 1992, became known as the year of the woman — with significant gains made by women congressional candidates.
Skipping back a few pebbles in time, Margaret Chase Smith, the Republican senator from Maine, was the first woman elected to both houses of Congress. Chase's last day in office was in January 1973 — when Giffords was a toddler.
There's not much political tradition to go on. This makes an auspicious encounter between a girl like Christina and a woman like Giffords into a moment to note for its bitter passing.
The White House Project is one effort to bridge this gap. It?s dedicated to finding and supporting younger women so that they can do more than dream about running for public office. It helps with fundraising and campaigning. Unfortunately, say experts like Jennifer Lawless of American University, too many smart, capable women count themselves out as candidates.
The president talked about a wish for our democracy to live up to Christina's expectations — for America to be as good as she imagined it. As her brief life shows, we can do a lot better by our smart girls.
To find out more about Jamie Stiehm, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com.
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