I was fortunate enough to receive early galleys for a new book by Gina M. Bennett, a 20-year veteran of the US Intelligence Community and mother of five children. National Security Mom: Why “Going Soft” Will Make America Strong takes the complicated issues involved in our national security, particularly in the “post 9/11 world,” and distills them into easily digestible pieces. The book’s unique twist is how Ms. Bennett relates the issues of national security to what goes on in a typical family. That the values that we learned as children and, as parents, are instilling in our own children, are the very same values needed to run government and handle some of the complex issues involved in national security, such as:
• Tell the truth
• If you make the mess, you clean it up
• Don’t give in to a bully
• Choose your friends wisely
• Learn from your mistakes
And of course, the job description for parents also requires an in-depth knowledge of issues such as crisis management, conflict resolution, budgeting and diplomacy.
So why aren’t there more women in government? On paper, many women—especially mothers—are uniquely suited to participating in government, on whatever level they choose. There are of course other qualifications that must be met—particularly for higher office—but there should be more women serving on city counsels, as mayors, as governors and in Congress. Ms. Bennett pulls this telling statistic from the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University:
“In 2008 women hold only 16.3% of the seats in Congress; 16% of the Senate seats; 23.5% of the statewide elective executive offices across the country; 23.7% of the state legislative positions; and of the mayors of the hundred largest cities in America, only eleven are women.”
She also notes that “We can blame history, the educational system, men, and many other underlying factors for why this is the case. But we also have to ask ourselves whether our disengagement perpetuates the myth that men are somehow more naturally suited to govern.”
Sure, some days we barely have time to do the laundry and the grocery shopping—where on earth are we going to find time to volunteer at our child’s school, much less to run for elected office? I work from home part-time and have only been able to volunteer in my daughter’s classroom once. And she’s in first grade, so that’s two years of not being able to find the time.
Because we are living in the “post 9/11 world,” Ms. Bennett tackles some of the larger questions that relate directly to her argument that more women, more mothers should be in government:
• How much personal freedom are we willing to give up in the name of “security”?
• How do we protect our children while making sure that they enjoy the freedoms granted in the Bill of Rights—freedoms we used to take for granted?
• The terrorists win if we to afraid to go about our lives as usual. They are generally unpopular even in their own countries and feed off the fear and attention they engender.
And as to the title’s assertion “Why ‘Going Soft’ Will Make America Strong,”
“[in matters of national security, foreign policy and counter terrorism] Anything other than belligerent speech is considered to be weak . . . [but] strength and security come from more than just physical might . . . I believe that to resolve problems, we have to understand them first. I prefer to believe that American policies have had bad results in some places rather than sticking my head in the sand. . . . I believe it demonstrates more courage to allow people whose beliefs you reject to have their say; it takes more integrity to admit you’ve made mistakes; and it takes far more strength to reject change in the face of a threat. I am a mother and that is the strength I know. That is the definition of strength that I will pass to my children so that they understand that there is a balance.”
Of course, all of this got me thinking. I’ve been a stay-at-home, work-from-home mom for the past six years. In six years I’ve spent a lot of time in playgroups, at the playground and on play dates. And I’ve never ceased to be amazed at the sheer number of women who don’t think that politics has anything to do with them. But everything that happens in government—from the local, to the state, to the national level has ripples of consequence.
Imagine that you’re at the park with your child. You go the lake to feed the ducks and your child tosses a rock into the pond. Watch what happens to the ripples. That’s politics. And what’s at stake? The laws that are passed effect your family; the judiciary, both elected and appointed, and how they interpret those laws; the military—will the draft be reinstated, and where will our soldiers—our sons and daughters—be sent?; the national debt—will our kids and grandchildren really be paying for our excesses? All of it affects us every day.
Lately I’ve noticed that many women in my citywide Mothers’ Club have become actively involved in issues such as city planning, in the city education fund, and the Special Education Parent Teacher Association (SEPTAR), which was started by a few mothers worried that their child’s needs weren’t being met.
But what about me? I am the ultimate armchair political junkie. If I don’t get an hourly fix—or at least several times a day—I start twitching. There’s a little panic: What happened? Something must have happened in the time I’ve been away from my computer. But, other than haranguing friends and a few strangers, and writing a few letters to the editor, I’m a passive audience. I hear “Are you going to get involved? Maybe run for office?” and my answer is always “No.*” I don’t have the time, the mental capacity, the self-confidence, or the ambition. All of those things that I imagine politicians need to be successful. But then I’ve always thought being involved in government meant running for city counsel and higher. It never occurred to me to start smaller—the PTA? A position on the board of one of my groups?
But after reading National Security Mom, I’m at least thinking about it.
Because being more involved does matter. To me, to my family, to my children’s future.
*My one exception was helping with a letter writing campaign for Mark Warner when he was running for Governor of Virginia.