MICHEL MARTIN, host: Finally, I didn't want to bite my nails all weekend waiting for congressional leaders and the president to agree on a plan to raise the debt ceiling and reduce the federal debt. So I did the next best thing: Watched the "Harry Potter" marathon. And yes, I am getting their ready for the big U.S. premiere this weekend. And no, I have not seen the new one yet. My hookups don't run that deep. Trust me, if they did, I would have been there.
But while I was watching the previous films, I was thinking our political wizards could catch a clue from the Potter gang - that is, they could listen to Hermione once in a while, which is to say they could let some women in the room.
I know. I know. It's a stereotype that women are more reasonable than men, more moderate than men, nicer than men. I know that's not true. Being here in D.C., I've met more than my share of narcissistic, blowhard women politicians, and I've met many men who listen well and don't care who gets the credit as long as the job gets done. But I will say, first of all, that it is amazing to me that during what could be one of the most important decision points in the recent history of this country, that there are so few women with a seat at the table.
Sure, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi was there on Sunday night, her tan-and-yellow jacket a relief from the sea of blue blazers. But is that really enough? Half the population gets to be represented by one voice?
Can I just tell you? Is it a coincidence that in this financial crisis, as in past ones, women were often the people sounding the alarm before anybody else was? First there was Sharon Watkins, who tried to blow the whistle on the shady accounting practices at Enron, long before regulators and the public caught on. More recently, there was Sheila Bair, the former head of the FDIC, who raised questions about subprime mortgages when others did, or women like June O'Neill, the former director of the Congressional Budget Office.
These women had the right idea. What they lacked was the power and the allies to allow their points of view to prevail. I would also ask: Is it a coincidence that some of the countries with the most serious and intractable budget woes in Europe right now are countries where female participation in government is minimal or degraded, like Greece, where just over 17 percent of the parliament are women? Or Italy, where just over 20 percent are, and where the prime minister evidently thinks the most important roles for women in this country involve taking their shirts off in public and cavorting with him in private, at parties where the favors are alleged to involve something other than goody bags?
And by the way, in the U.S., if you're keeping track, women are just 17 percent of the members of Congress, holding just 89 out of 539 seats. And while it's true in recent years, many of the headline-grabbing potential candidates for president have been women, now Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the Democratic side three years ago, and Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann on the Republican side now. Secretary Clinton has made it clear she is done with campaigning. And it remains to be seen whether either Palin or Bachmann will ever have an impact on governance equal to their impact as media figures.
This begs the question: Just what do women bring to the table when it comes to difficult negotiations? It's tough to say, and many have tried. Is it that women are socialized to listen more and talk less? Is it that they are more willing to sublimate their own egos for the sake of the greater good? I don't know. I do know that something is wrong when our economic future is at stake, and the only people who get to sit at the table to talk about it are the very people who messed the thing up to this point.
And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.