Lowry, Joan A. Pat Schroeder: a Woman of the House.
Pat Schroeder: A Woman of the House is a biography of a different style of woman who served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1973 to 1997. While husbands were the traditional means for women to win election to Congress, Schroeder used her charm, razor wit, and feminist credentials to win membership to that most exclusive male club. As a member of Congress, Schroeder sought to implement solutions to problems of gender discrimination inside and outside of government and to improve the welfare system by redirecting funding from military programs.
Lowry uses primary and secondary sources to complete her portrait of Schroeder. Primary sources consulted include interviews with Schroeder as well as references to her autobiography, 24 Years of House Work ... and the Place Is Still a Mess (1998), newspaper interviews, and the recollections of the congresswoman's staff. Lowry also taps a wealth of secondary materials on both Schroeder and women in Congress by accessing the biographies of other politicians as well as newspaper and magazine articles.
The strengths of the biography are multifold. Lowry accomplishes the task of linking Schroeder's ideology and independence to the populist roots of her family in explaining her liberal-maverick inclinations. In addition, Lowry coherently sets forth the factors which led to Schroeder's decision to run in the 1972 campaign, including her family background, her legal training at Harvard, and her consequential job discrimination, as well as the poor quality of medical care she received in 1968. Clearly illustrated were the consequences of being regarded as a maverick in Congress particularly in an era when men were the political leaders, and even freshmen men were ostracized for being outspoken, as exemplified by Schroeder's demand to file a minority report on Pentagon funding. Indeed, Schroeder's most valuable assets were her feminist views and her razor wit. The latter was especially important in empowering Schroeder to gain media access as seen by her labeling of issues like cutting public funding for NPR as "pulling the feathers out of Big Bird," referring to the rich and privileged as "the lucky sperm club," or labeling conservative Republican congresswomen as "femi-Newties."
Still, Lowry's work suffers from three major deficiencies. First and foremost is the lack of understanding conveyed about Congress as an institution. Chauvinism, which is certainly a part of Congress, is not separated in the biography from the concept of seniority. As a maverick, Schroeder alienated her senior colleagues. The congresswomen refused to support their position on hideaway offices and pay raises. Their refusal to consider her policy ideas was interpreted as sexist behavior. Lowry appears to reach this conclusion when she addresses why Schroeder was so unpopular during the 1988 presidential campaign: "She was too controversial. She was too mouthy. You never knew what she was going to say. She had that wacky, offbeat humor that sometimes made her look flaky.... But most of all, Schroeder wasn't a team player" (p. 133). Regarding Congress, Lowry fails to consider Congress as an institution as seen in other works, most notably by Robert Cart in Master of the Senate (2002). For example, Lowry makes reference to the committee system in the House, but offers little explanation beyond referring to "B"-tier committees.
Second, the fact that Schroeder's political career spanned twelve terms in Congress is addressed only in terms of a few issues such as Tailhook and her ill-fated presidential bid. The major policy changes which occurred in Congress during her tenure, such as the Vietnam War, the War Powers Act, stagflation, human rights, trade with China (the reader is treated to the image of Schroeder in a bunny suit passing out candy in Beijing), the Iran-Contra hearings, and the Clinton administration's health-care proposal, among others, are largely avoided. Where was Schroeder on these issues?
Finally, Lowry's work appears apologetic regarding Schroeder's misstatements and attitudes. Noteworthy is Schroeder's criticism of the secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for appearing on the cover of a society magazine at a time of welfare budget cuts, but her hurt is seen when aviators conducted parodies of her in the Tomcat Follies when the House was cutting naval jobs. Likewise limited exposure is directed at Schroeder's acceptance of special-interest money, her misstatements about having to share a chair on the House Armed Services Committee "for two years," and her efforts to preserve Lowry Air Force Base when it failed to contribute to national defense. Lowry also fails to address the ethics issue raised by MOJO of Pat and James Schroeder's purchases of Pan American Beverages stock when she was voting in favor of NAFTA and he was an official with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Because of these weaknesses, Lowry's biography lacks an intellectual basis for considering it superior to either of Schroeder's books on her career in the House. For this reason, there is no evidence that readers would not be better served by reading Schroeder's autobiography.
What was Schroeder's influence in the House of Representatives? At the end of the book, that is the question that leaves the reader puzzled. Certainly Schroeder represented the interests of feminists in trying to create a more gender-neutral society and worked to clean up the pollution at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal. But was Schroeder deserving of such accolades when in twenty-four years she is not identified as authoring one piece of major legislation other than the Family Medical Leave Bill which passed Congress in 1990 but was vetoed by the president, or chairing a major committee? Of course, the premise of the book does not rest on the question, "Was Schroeder an ethical, skilled legislator?" but rather, "Was she an ardent feminist who fought chauvinism?" While the book may have value for courses in feminism, it is relatively limited in terms of understanding the true Pat Schroeder or the changes in public policy and Congress that occurred during her political career.
Jeffrey L. Prewitt, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Political Science
Mt. Vernon, Georgia
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|Author:||Prewitt, Jeffrey L.|
|Publication:||International Social Science Review|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2004|
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