Friday, April 17, 2015
So Marilyn Monroe is out of the question?
I try not to burden myself with guidelines when writing this column.
But I do have one rule: Try not to advocate the impossible. Thus no modest proposals, no utopian dreams. Live in the world of the practical.
Wasn't always so. In the past, I've pushed quixotic quests, such as getting rid of the paper dollar, lulled into a false sense of possibility because less hidebound nations are capable of it. Great Britain has no paper pound, Canada no paper dollar, for instance. Saves them billions.
But we can't. Americans think of themselves as dynamic and fearless — and maybe we were, once. But now we're skittish and change averse.
That said, I see the appeal of impossible quests, such as the effort to boot Indian-slayer Andrew Jackson off the $20 bill and replace him with a woman.
It's an odd piece of tokenism. Just as being on a U.S. postage stamp has lost its cachet — I could create legal U.S. postal stamps honoring my dog — so currency is about to be mooted by cash cards.
But it's still significant enough for advocates to create a website and get a bill introduced into the Senate this week by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) forming an advisory committee, as only the Treasury Department could actually make such a change.
Before we visit the website, let's ask: What woman should have the honor of debuting on U.S. currency? (A real woman, I mean, discounting all those allegorical figures of liberty and electricity and such.)
A tough question. She'd be going head to head with Washington, Lincoln, Hamilton, Grant (the latter two don't really belong; maybe Jackson should stay and one of them go).
Four candidates? Off the top of my head, I'd go with Emily Dickinson, Clara Barton, Amelia Earhart and Jane Addams. It isn't a diverse list — no women of color — but it's my list, and I didn't want to pander.
Not a concern for those advocating the change. Go to their website, womenon20s.org, and you're introduced to their four finalists: Eleanor Roosevelt, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks and Wilma Mankiller.
Heartbreaking. While energetic and independent in her own right, Eleanor Roosevelt's claim to fame is she married a man who became president. Harriet Tubman and Rosa Parks — if you're looking for a black woman, they're two. But compare either, historically, to, say, Martin Luther King and I don't think I'd be alone in preferring they choose King and shelve the whole honor-a-woman idea.
Wilma Mankiller? And she is? "First elected chief of a Native Nation." Died in 2010. An utterly unknown woman whose name expresses the fears of half of America when contemplating feminism. That's a good idea.
Those four were voted in, supposedly, from an list of 15. Looking at that list, Rachel Carson popped out. She'd be the best call, part of a top-to-bottom currency redo focusing on the environment. (See how these impossible quests draw you in?) Or Susan B. Anthony, though she's already been on the dollar coin, and what a failure that was. Margaret Sanger? Really? The birth-control advocate? A person responsible for far more deaths, at least in the conservative view, than Andrew Jackson ever caused. Yeah, that'll go over well. We'll end up with a third of the country refusing to touch a $20 bill. I'm surprised they didn't include Emma Goldman and Madalyn Murray O'Hair (notorious red radical and fierce atheist, respectively, if those names don't ring a bell).
Looking over their list of candidates, I caught myself thinking, "Women really haven't had much impact on U.S. history, have they?" Which can't be the intention. Women have had an impact, of course, but if we're honoring the gender, we should go back to allegory: suffragettes, pioneers, textile workers, mothers. It's so strange to push Wilma Mankiller and ignore their contributions. Then again, the whole effort is going to amount to nothing, so no need to get too worked up over which specific woman won't be honored on the twenty.