“The best man in the cabinet.” That’s how Golda Meir was described by her colleague, David Ben-Gurion. She went on to lead Israel to victory in one of its darkest hours, the Yom Kippur War of 1973. People in Denver, my hometown, are proud that Meir went to a local high school; her girlhood home is now a museum here.
The little grandmother was revered as “the Iron Lady,” before Britons conferred the title on Margaret Thatcher. The grocer’s daughter was not one to shrink from the sound of the guns either. She vanquished Argentina in the Falklands and helped stiffen George H. W. Bush’s spine (when they were together in Aspen, as it happened) after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait.
I thought of the Iron Ladies, with their Colorado connections and their heroic leadership of America’s closest allies, last week after Michele Bachmann electified the first Republican presidential debate. Pundits were derisive, with Mike Littwin of the Denver Post scoffing that her rivalry with Sarah Palin is a "cat fight." Unfair? Yes. Surprising? No.
Palin and Bachmann know you don’t go on the playground unless you can take rough teasing, and both have survived worse. This latest round merely reminds us it’s a liberal man’s world in which conservative women are fair game for putdowns and the non-sexist PC rules apparently don’t apply.
It’s ironic, though -- because there’s evidence that each woman is no common kitty, but a lioness with mettle such as few American politicians of either sex have demonstrated in our times. While Bachmann and Palin can’t yet be compared with Thatcher or Meir, both are on a career arc that could lead there in a decade. What two other women, after all, have ever vied for a major party’s presidential nomination?
As for the evidence I’m referring to, Denver audiences wowed by the Minnesota congresswoman and the former Alaska governor could attest to their remarkable appeal. Colorado Christian University, where I work, brought in Michele Bachmann last summer and Sarah Palin this spring. Each lit up the room.
Bachmann roused a crowd of 600 at Western Conservative Summit 2010 with her fiery yet precise argument for returning Congress and the White House to Republican hands. Palin was equally impressive as she used a speech at CCU on May 2, the day after our forces killed Bin Laden, to spell out a statesmanlike doctrine for the use of U.S. military power.
After some banter about basketball and bear hunting, the alleged airhead from Wasilla (perpetually underestimated, like a certain B-movie actor who won 49 states and took down the USSR) deftly zinged Pakistan’s double-dealing and Obama’s “ill-defined” Libyan folly. Then with Reaganesque toughness she set forth five principles for the American way of war:
(1) “Commit our forces only when clear and vital American interests are at stake.”
(2) “If we have to fight, fight to win. Use overwhelming force. Defeat the enemy as quickly as possible. Nation-building is not the main purpose of our armed forces.”
(3) “Have clearly defined goals and objectives before sending in troops. If you can’t explain the mission to the American people clearly and concisely,” stay out.
(4) “American soldiers must never be put under foreign command.”
(5) “Sending our armed forces should be the last resort. We don’t go looking for dragons to slay.”
Neither of the Bushes, nor Clinton, nor Obama, ever put it so well. America’s day will come, as Britain’s and Israel’s did, to be led by a lioness. Not one but two are in view for 2012. Lady Liberty could do a lot worse than Bachmann or Palin.