Martha Burk’s State Department Adventure

Joel Mowbray
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Posted: Apr 03, 2003 12:00 AM

Taking a break from hounding Augusta National Country Club for not admitting female members, infamous feminist Martha Burk heeded the call of the State Department last month to represent the United States as part of a delegation to a conference on women’s issues in Tallin, Estonia.  In her short time there—on the taxpayer dime—she saw fit to slam President Bush, criticize the United States generally, and bemoan the “pornophication” of society.

  The third in a series of summits, the Baltic Conference on Women and Democracy focused mostly on feminist agenda items—“women in power and decision-making,” “women and economy,” and “women in media”—as well as serious issues such as prostitution and violence against women.  Not one to address the real concerns of ordinary women—like the ability to golf at an exclusive club—Burk stuck to the likes of “sexualization of mass culture and our environment.”  She did take the time, however, to branch out to bash Bush and the country she was representing.

  At one dinner session, Burk toasted to having a “different President” by the time of the next conference.  But Burk was not finished.  At the closing session, she leapt to give an oral report on a workshop for which she served as vice-chair, which is unusual since the chairperson normally addresses the conference.  Rather than sticking to the topic at hand, though, she spent several minutes chastising the U.S. for failing to pass the Equal Rights Amendment as well as CEDAW (Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women—a global ERA), lamenting that women in the U.S. are second-class citizens.

  In mid-February, with the world on the brink of war, Burk ranted to a receptive audience about...  Abercrombie and Fitch catalogs.  Serving as the vice-chair on the “Pornophication of the Public Space” workshop, Burk led the discussion on “Sex as a Marketing Tool.”  (She’s “anti-,” by the way.)  Apparently, the provocative poses by the models in the upscale clothier’s ads was a far more pressing concern than, say, the thousands of women who fall prey to profiteering sex traffickers.

  Things could have been worse.  Burk was originally slated to head the delegation, but at the last minute, a handful of conservatives were added to round out the group of 23, and former Maryland gubernatorial candidate Ellen Sauerbrey became the chairperson.  Had it not been for pressure exerted on Burk by the few conservatives, who knows what crazy stunts she might have pulled.  One thing Burk wanted to do was pass out a “peace petition” and give a corresponding diatribe about Bush’s supposed warmongering.

  An argument could easily be made that the State Department should not even legitimize such international forums, perhaps opting to form U.S.-led events instead.  But if bad things can be stopped before gaining international steam—which happened in Estonia—then a legitimate argument can be made to support attending these otherwise goofy gatherings.  Sending people like Martha Burk, however, is not just embarrassing, it prevents the U.S. from garnering respect from other nations.  As the Heritage Foundation’s Becky Norton Dunlop succinctly notes, “It’s a travesty.”

   Sure, getting Burk out of the country is good for the folks of Augusta and funny for the rest of us—but it is sad when you consider that it is not an isolated incident.  Burk had attended the previous two women and democracy conferences, and it isn’t hard to imagine what she did during those trips.  It’s not just about Burk, though.  She would have done all the same things regardless of who sent her.  But that’s the point.  Why did State select a woman who, after getting back from Estonia, compared the plight of women in combat in Iraq to those who can’t join a particular country club in Georgia? 

  There are many good and dedicated people at Foggy Bottom—liberals and conservatives—but State as a whole is dominated by hopelessly out-of-touch careerists who don’t think twice before choosing someone like Burk.  Once President Bush finishes dealing with the war in Iraq—and equally pressing issues like the “pornophication” of Abercrombie and Fitch catalogs—he needs to find new people who can start to clean the mess at State.