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Barber: Congress has come a long way, baby
Back in September of 1991, Fox TV aired an episode of “The Simpsons” called “Mr. Lisa Goes to Washington.” Lisa takes a trip to the nation’s capital, where a congressman tells her, “Lisa, you’re a doer. And who knows, maybe someday you’ll be a congressman or a senator. We have quite a few women senators, you know.”
“Only two,” says Lisa. “I checked.”
It was true, incredibly: Nancy Kassebaum (R-Kan.) and Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) were the only female senators at the time. The next year, five women were elected to the Senate -- enough to help deem 1992 “The Year of the Woman.”
We’ve come a long way, baby. After today’s swearing in of the 113th Congress, there are a record 20 female senators –- four Republicans and 16 Democrats.
This Congress -- the Senate and House of representative combined -- also has the highest number ever of Hispanic members (31 total). There are 43 African-American members, and seven openly lesbian or gay representatives. The 113th has the first Hindu congresswoman and the first Buddhist senator.
Will the diversity make a difference? Congress suffers from dispiriting approval numbers, and the 112th bunch, whose term ended today, was notably unproductive. As the temporary “fiscal cliff” fix and the delayed Sandy aid-vote show, there’s a lot of unfinished business in Washington -- and many reasons to be pessimistic.
But surely it can’t hurt for the 535 people who represent us in Washington to look a little more like the 315 million of us across the nation.