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Houston Breakthrough, April 1979
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Houston Breakthrough, April 1979 - Page 16. April 1979. Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries. University of Houston Digital Library. Web. September 26, 2020. https://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/feminist/item/1324/show/1311.

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(April 1979). Houston Breakthrough, April 1979 - Page 16. Houston and Texas Feminist and Lesbian Newsletters. Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries. Retrieved from https://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/feminist/item/1324/show/1311

Disclaimer: This is a general citation for reference purposes. Please consult the most recent edition of your style manual for the proper formatting of the type of source you are citing. If the date given in the citation does not match the date on the digital item, use the more accurate date below the digital item.

Houston Breakthrough, April 1979 - Page 16, April 1979, Houston and Texas Feminist and Lesbian Newsletters, Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries, accessed September 26, 2020, https://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/feminist/item/1324/show/1311.

Disclaimer: This is a general citation for reference purposes. Please consult the most recent edition of your style manual for the proper formatting of the type of source you are citing. If the date given in the citation does not match the date on the digital item, use the more accurate date below the digital item.

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Title Houston Breakthrough, April 1979
Publisher Breakthrough Publishing Co.
Date April 1979
Subject.Topical (LCSH)
  • Women
  • Periodicals
  • Feminism--United States--Periodicals
  • Newsletters
Subject.Geographic (TGN)
  • Houston, Texas
Genre (AAT)
  • periodicals
Language English
Type (DCMI)
  • Text
  • Image
Original Item Location HQ1101 .B74
Original Item URL http://library.uh.edu/record=b2332724~S11
Digital Collection Houston and Texas Feminist and Lesbian Newsletters
Digital Collection URL http://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/feminist
Repository Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries
Repository URL http://info.lib.uh.edu/about/campus-libraries-collections/special-collections
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Transcript her Outstanding Freshman Senator, and she, in turn, called them all her friends. Before leaving the Senate, she was named Governor for a Day, a purely symbolic title yet one, the book makes clear, in which she reveled. It was another milestone. The Quick Fix Jordan came to Congress in 1973, and well before her last term, I'm told, she was a woman bored with her work. The glory days of impeachment had come and gone, as had the initial exhilaration of being elected to Congress. Quickly she had become a star—she was perhaps the best known person in Congress by the end of her first term-and it seemed difficult for her to keep motivated after that. She was easily frustrated by the workings of Congress, quickly annoyed at how long it took to get anywhere "... It was easy to become bogged down in the minutiae of committee meetings and settings and roll call votes and quorum calls and spend many hours doing things that you really had no interest in doing," she writes. Even in her first year, there were portents of this. A number of times, after particularly bad days, Jordan would storm into her office and announce to anyone within earshot: "I don't need this place, you know. I can leave any time." willing to stretch herself too thin. She had only one legislative assistant, so she wouldn't have to feel badgered by a half- dozen assistants all pushing her in a half- dozen different directions, and she spent a lot of her time simply studying the various bills coming up on the floor. That is also why she resented the black and women's caucuses. As with the Harris County Democrats, she felt they were trying to "use" her for their purposes. They were trying to stretch her too thin, she thought, always asking her to sign onto some letter to the president, or to join them in a press conference, or, to speak out on something on their behalf. What she wouldn't see is that the caucuses, and the Harris County Democrats, were full of people working towards something, committed to some set of goals. All Jordan could see was that she, Barbara Jordan, was being asked to perform a favor, for which she personally would get nothing in return. If that sounds a bit harsh, contrast it with her attitudes towards those who she believed could help her: "When Congressman (George) Mahon, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, interrupted her on another phone call to ask if she would sing with him at the West Texas Chamber of Commerce meeting, she was jocular and glad to oblige," writes Hearon. "Doing favors was part and parcel of the ongoing business of doing While working in Congress can be an essentially thankless, anonymous task, the business of speechmaking brought with it an immediate gratification. She could always bring down the house, no matter what the audience or the topic. It was a quick-fix—a reaffirmation of her stardom. During the heady days of impeachment, she had played an important role on the Judiciary Committee, for chairman Peter Rodino trusted her instincts and had consulted her practically daily. But later she would not go out of her way even to attend her subcommittee meetings, and when she did, she had nothing to offer. She just sat and listened. By the end of her third year, she had all but stopped pushing for bills she wrote or offering amendments. Once in a while she would drop a bill into the congressional hopper and there it would die. She began spending more time than ever on the House floor. The last six months of her congressional career, even her staff had a hard time seeing her because her co-author, Hearon, had become a de- facto administrative assistant, practically running the office while the two of them wrote the book. What Jordan never lost her taste for was the politics of the House. She may have been absent at subcommittee meetings, but she never missed a meeting of the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee, a group of Democrats who decide who is going to be on what committee and perform other "political" functions. (Here, too, the liberals soon became resigned to the fact that Barbara Jordan would invariably side with the conservatives.) She quietly made a few overtures to the House leadership in an effort to get on the House Rules Committee at a time when the leaders were trying to make the committee less independent and more subservient to their wishes. That would have been all right with Jordan, who would have liked working for the leadership, thus putting them in her political debt. It is often said in her defense that Barbara Jordan was not the kind of person business in the Congress . . ." She granted a lot of those favors by doing what she did with Mahon—making appearances and speeches. While working in Congress can be an essentially thankless, anonymous task, the business of speechmaking brought with it an immediate gratification. She could always bring down the house, no matter what the audience or the topic. It was a quick fix—a reaffirmation of her stardom. As such, it became something she did often (and profitably-Jordan usually made in the neighborhood of $12,000 a year in honoraria). She campaigned for Carter at his request (another political chit), and recalled: "I don't know whether Carter ought to thank me for campaigning for him, or I ought to thank him for sending me to these places to campaign because I was having a ball. The reaction to me was what turned me on." She made her famous speech at the Democratic Convention at the request of fellow Texan Robert Strauss (add another political chit) and glowed in the warmth of the nation's applause. Afterwards, there was a party in the VIP lounge, and Jordan was the star there too. "They were all kissing my ass, that's all I can say about that time." After Carter was elected, Jordan began looking for new milestones. Congress had already lost its luster. There was a great deal of talk about her becoming a member of the cabinet, but most of it didn't interest her. To her, writes Hearon, "the idea of a cabinet post seemed to offer nothing more substantive than another First Time. More immediate, and therefore more real to her, was the campaign trail with its familiar thrill of bringing audiences to their feet." And Jordan adds: "I didn't want HEW: a black woman head of HEW couldn't do a thing that would be of interest." What she did want was Attorney General. While it is never spelled out in the book, the sense one gets is that she felt HEW was the kind of cabinet post that a Pat Harris might be named to, but only Barbara Jordan could pull down Attorney General. Attorney General wouldn't be any First Time. Here would be another notch to her belt. She was never seriously considered for the post, particularly after her one meeting with the Carter people turned into a debacle—they were stunned and angered by her refusal to even listen to any offers other than Attorney General. Well after he was elected, and his Cabinet firmly in place, Carter again asked Jordan to campaign, this time for Brendan Byrne in New Jersey. She turned him down. "I had done my thing for Carter at the time of his campaigning and helping with the election," she writes. "And I hadn't called in any of those chits at that point. I decided: I don't need to stockpile favors at the White House, so I won't go to New Jersey. That's just politics." Collecting Pens Jordan left Congress last year without looking back. Part of the reason is that she had gotten from it all she wanted—the fame and recognition. The milestone had been achieved; she had no further need for Congress. (Another part of the reason may well have been her health, which has been rumored for years to be worse than she will publicly admit.) Before leaving Congress, she made one of her last major public appearances at a Harvard commencement, where she gave the address. Her description of the event reveals a lot about why Barbara Jordan was such a disappointment as a public official. "And I had done a lot of those (commencement addresses); had been awarded, at that juncture, twenty-two doctoral degrees, including one at Boston and one scheduled at Princeton. So I was thinking: Well, maybe I don't need to do any more of those. How many commencement speeches do you give? How many honorary degrees do you want? "Then I got a letter from Harvard University. It had voted to give me an honorary doctoral degree at its June commencement. So I answered myself: Well, that's one you take. How many more? One more." The speech that day, given in her usual ringing, inspiring tone, was about the lack of citizen participation in government. She spoke in particular about the regulatory agencies, how difficult it was for an ordinary citizen to poke his nose into the business of the Atomic Energy Commission, for example, how the rules were stacked against it, and the expenses were too high. "The people want in," she said. "How much longer, how much longer will people tolerate a network of illusions and vacuous rhetoric? How much longer?" she said. "We want to be in control of our lives. Whether we are jungle fighters, craftsmen, company men, gamesmen, we want to be in control. And when the government erodes that control, we are not comfortable," she said. "The stakes are too high for government to be a spectator sport," she said. The crowd, of course, was in awe, and what no one thought to ask was what had Barbara Jordan done to make government less a spectator sport? Why hadn't she tried to make it easier for people to intervene in the proceedings of the Atomic Energy Commission if that is what she thought important; Why hadn't she done anything to help Americans take more control of their lives? In her efforts to Make It, she had come to see life as a collection of awards, of milestones to be achieved and then abandoned for newer heights. Certainly she was bored by Congress (and certainly Congress can be a boring place), but it didn't help much that she looked at the passage of bills as a chance to collect pens from a President—which is precisely how she looked at it. ("How many times do you keep presenting a bill and getting it passed and getting a President to sign it? How many pens do you want?") Certainly, HEW would have been a difficult place to manage, but it didn't help that Barbara Jordan wasn't even willing to try. To her it didn't matter that HEW touches the lives of all of us; it just didn't sparkle with the right kind of First Time. And certainly she had gone far, but for what purpose? The Voting Rights Act was a nice bit of work, but it didn't come close to tapping the immense potential of Barbara Jordan. If the minutiae of legislation bored her, there were plenty of other things she could have done. To name but one, Jordan was in a unique position in the House to bring some sense to the question of energy prices. As the congresswoman from oil-rich Houston, she had the trust and support of the oil and gas industry, who yearn for ever-higher prices. As the congresswoman from the largest ghetto in Texas, she was revered by the poor, whose need for cheap energy is just as pressing. She was the one person both sides trusted; had she the inclination she could have helped cut through the hyperbole and the rhetoric surrounding the issue. By talking to both sides, she could have brought some rationality to our energy mess. She had the talent to pull off something like that. But she never had the inclination. The One Speech Legacy "What is different about tonight?" she asked the audience at the Democratic Convention. "It is that I, Barbara Jordan, am a keynote speaker." She needed to get beyond looking at herself as a symbol —"I, Barbara Jordan"—but she refused to do so. LUtimately, her vision was too limited; she never saw the potential for doing good with her talents. What's remarkable about her book, I suppose, is its underlying admission of that failure. By far the bulk of it is about making it- winning the oratorical awards and Girl of the Year, getting into the Texas Senate and being Governor for a Day, coming to Congress and making the famous impeachment speech, and the convention speech, and finally making that trip to Harvard. I asked one Texas politico whether he thought she had left a legacy. "Surely," he said, "her impeachment speech will be recited by schoolchildren for generations to come." I tend to doubt that, but even if I'm wrong, that hardly seems enough. Barbara Jordan was a symbol and a hero at a time when America yearned for someone like her. Barbara Jordan: A Self- Portrait tells a lot about how she became that symbol, and almost nothing about what she did when she got there. And the reason for that, quite simply, is that Bar- barba Jordan never got around to doing very much. Joeseph Nocera is an editor of The Washington Monthly. (c) 1979 The Washington Monthly. Reprinted with permission. 46 HOUSTQtf BREAKTHRQU^pj; APRIL* 9-^9