The 19th Amendment and the 2016 Election

by DR. ROBIN MCFEE August 26, 2016

"Those who ignore history are condemned to repeat it"

George Santayana

One of my favorite quotations - it underscores why we endure many of the unnecessary political follies of contemporary society. We as a society don't know a lot about our history, and/or don't see the significance of trying to remedy that.

Here is a good "history" example - what is the significance of August 26th, 1920?

Clearly anyone knowing the answer likely indicates an individual who understands something about the Constitution, how the division of labor between the states and federal government come together concerning amendments, and perhaps a bit about our history as a society.

Sadly most people I have asked about the 19th Amendment, if they have any clue at all about the purpose of an Amendment in terms of the Constitution, think it was the law that overturned Prohibition, granting college students the right to play beer pong on campus.

History is poorly taught in the US, as multiple studies by various groups have revealed in the last 10 years. The Nation's Report Card (1) 2014 study on 8th grader knowledge of US history, geography and civics revealed 29% of the students possessed below basic knowledge in US History. Only 18% were proficient. Let me repeat that....only 18% of 8th graders in the study were proficient about the history of their own country. This isn't quantum physics talking about the building blocks of the universe, but US history is the building block of our foundation as good citizens. Geography and Civics did somewhat better, but not by much. The increase from 2010 wasn't inspiring either. In addition, when history is taught, not surprisingly it is increasingly revisionist, and leaning more towards indoctrination than education. 

After reading the study results, I became convinced Watter's World was real, and that is a scary place. The folks he interviews get to vote. OMGosh maybe the Framers were right to be afraid, very afraid of the masses, especially the uneducated. Moreover, Dickens, not missing a beat warned Scrooge about the danger of ignorance.

Against this backdrop, sometimes I am surprised books about history, and great historic figures continue to make the NY Times bestseller list - examples include Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates, Hamilton, The Bully Pulpit, Killing Lincoln, George Washington's Secret Six, The Quartet, and others.

However, before we take comfort that book sales translate to a knowledgeable public, prepared to spend judiciously and wisely the most precious resource at our disposal - the vote, walk with me through a quick civics experience.

Consider the cover of the book The Quartet, which has images of the four "Founding Fathers" (a term that probably no longer can be spoken at Princeton) most responsible for turning the United Colonies in 1776 who supported the Declaration of Independence, into the United States by the 1790's. Cheeky that my friends and I are, (we placed a small wager on the outcome), we asked folks to identify two of the four portraits. Given George Washington is one of the four, one would think naming at least 1 of four would be a no brainer for the average person who graduated high school, college, even graduate school, right? Especially with the hit play "Hamilton" on Broadway (no mystery to readers of FSM, Hamilton is another of The Quartet). 

My friends and I called it quits after querying 10 people. While not exactly the stuff of my more rigorously conducted studies presented at conferences over the years, nevertheless it was telling. Almost driving me to do a Linus worthy scream in angst, akin to that venerable Peanuts character being told there is no such thing as the ‘Great Pumpkin,' the lack of appreciation for, and knowledge about the founding of our nation, let alone the Founders, was disheartening to say the least.  Sadly most of those queried look like they needed to "phone a friend," ask for a "50 - 50," sported a blank stare of total non-recognition, or decided to take a SWAG (some wild ass guess).  And no (!) Napoleon is not one of The Quartet.

When the experiment ended, the mental (and actual) face-planting my friends and I did, soon gave way to near despair.

Is it any wonder that politicians can so easily hoodwink the masses, portraying parties and candidates in ways that history utterly disputes, but alas, most folks are blithely too ignorant of the truth to recognize when they are being lied to?

Is it any wonder identity politics and candidates with characteristics more than qualifications easily hijack the public imagination with a false narrative?  Does either party think I will vote for a ticket because a woman is at the top (Hillary), or bottom (Sarah) of it? Apparently, yes!

As an aside, guess which political party was a stronger supporter of women's suffrage, or civil rights? Just for fun, go check on the history and Congressional votes.

It will take more than two X chromosomes to get me to vote for someone. Voting for a woman, regardless of party or political office, just because she is a female, is not feminism, or in line with the Suffrage movement. Voting for the best candidate for the office, one who has a record of accomplishment aligned with my values, is in line with the Suffrage movement. Yet we conflate a female president or vice president or senator as pare pasu equality for all. It is optics. Besides, Ireland, Israel, and Great Britain pretty much broke that ceiling for us years ago with Mary, Golda, and Margaret. Do I want a female POTUS - absolutely....if she is the best candidate. "Best" is a personal decision, but ought to be based upon achievement, not gender.

For personal reasons (some of my great, great -give or take a great - aunts, and other relatives, were suffragists, attended Seneca Falls, and other suffrage rallies) the road to the 19th Amendment is extremely important. Having spent a fair amount of time in the Middle East and other regions of the world where women do not enjoy the same opportunities, considerations, or ability to freely vote as do we Americans, it saddens and frustrates me that many of our fellow citizens fail to recognize the importance of the vote.  Moreover, too many take for granted that which they enjoy so freely, but was for many a hard fought battle requiring great personal, physical, and financial hardships, including imprisonment.

The 19th Amendment is the result of a long struggle, involving enormous sacrifice.  For nearly a century a group of courageous people - men and women whose names or achievements most Americans do not recognize, such as Alice Paul, Lucy Burn, Inez Milholland, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, or Susan B. Anthony (well maybe because of the coin eponymously named, people might know her name) - fought tirelessly to obtain for women the right to vote. And with it, other rights have been realized since 1920.

For 21st century Americans unused to limitations, the notion that they would ever not have a right to vote, or that there might be a need to suffer the tortuous path to achieve it are unfathomable. That approximately fifty percent of the US population remained disenfranchised prior to this important Constitutional addition (think 1776 to 1920), in spite of great contributions to the growth of our nation by women, seems otherworldly, but it was reality, and remains so for millions of women today. Which is why I am so ticked off by the casual way people, especially women, treat the vote. 

Our vote ought to mean something. It ought not to be so easily given away, or bought by politicians offering entitlements, or candidates that look like us by color, ethnicity, couture, education, occupation (i would love to see a physician POTUS if doc was the best candidate) or gender, but lack the values we share, or because of a particular party affiliation.  Yet that is precisely how politicians try to manipulate us - sound bite and bumper sticker politics ("the war on women"), abortion, identity politics, the politics of jealousy, on and on. 

Not infrequently, we as women rely upon national organizations supposed to represent our values and interests, but more often are merely extensions of political parties, instead of relying upon our own research, our own group of like-minded associates, efforts in the political arena, contact with politicians, and values.

Then there are the never Trump, or never Hillary, or never vote.

Not voting, as far as I am concerned is tantamount to abandoning citizenship. Beyond being a slap in the face to every woman worldwide who dreams of political opportunities and the right to vote, it is an insult to the myriad women, and men, who fought to gain this critical right for all of us. Little known and even less utilized secret,  you can write in names to vote for. 

So for election 2016 here is my advice.....If you can't hold your nose for any of the candidates - Democrat, Republican, or the various Independents, then write your name on the ballot,  or someone u like...Bernie, Marco or your best friend. Voting for a bad candidate gives a false mandate. Not voting squanders a precious right. So vote for yourself! If enough people did this, politics as usual would get a wake up call. And....  Congratulations, one person voted for you for president! Or dog catcher. Or City Council. If my friends are to be believed, several years and elections ago I earned a few votes for City Council - all by write in. Not voting is like leaving money on the table. It is stupid, foolish, and dare I suggest, unpatriotic. Get out and vote - there are more things on the ballot than POTUS.

As importantly, if you are disgusted by politics as usual in the US, take a cue from the Suffragists - get involved, raise your voice, make a difference. It will take time, money, effort, and some thick skin, but if issues matter, make them matter.

The 2016 presidential election has been unlike any I have lived through. Two candidates (Bernie, Donald) came out of nowhere because they were the anti-party party members, and because the disenfranchised, or at least those who viewed themselves thusly, started populace movements to a degree unseen in contemporary politics. Whether mainstream (Hillary) or outsider (Donald), one thing is for sure, the less informed we are as a society, the easier it is to dupe us, to mollify us, to buy us.

As for the 19th Amendment, here's a little bit of history: January 1918 the ‘woman suffrage amendment' passed the House of Representatives with the necessary 2/3 majority vote. June 1919 it was approved by the Senate, and subsequently sent to the individual states in the USA for ratification. August 18, 1920 Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the amendment (2/3rds majority required of state ratification to make it part of the Constitution). And on the morning of August 26th, 1920 Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby signed, and thus declared in effect the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution giving female citizens of the nation the right to vote in all American elections (2). 


The 19th Amendment and the 2016 Election

"We've come a long way baby"....but that should mean a lot more than being able to smoke Virginia Slims.

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Dr. Robin McFee, MPH, FACPM, FAACT, is a physician, and clinical toxicologist. As medical director of Threat Science - and nationally recognized expert in WMD preparedness, she consults with government agencies, corporations and the media. Dr. McFee is the former director of the Center for Bioterrorism Preparedness (CB PREP) and bioweapons - WMD adviser to the Domestic Security Task Force, the former chair of the Global Terrorism Council of ASIS International, and a member of the US Counterterrorism Advisory Team. She has coauthored two books: Toxico-Terrorism by McGraw Hill and The Handbook of Nuclear, Chemical and Biological Agents, published by Informa/CRC Press    


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