Bella Abzug, always a political leader of extraordinary talent, has now done what had heretofore been viewed as impossible: She has gotten herself fired from a presidential advisory committee. Until President Carter canned her from the chairpersonship of the National Advisory Committee on Women, most cynics supposed that no president in command of his faculties would discharge the head of an advisory committee so heedless of court etiquette as to proffer unwanted advice.
On those very rare, nearly unique occasions when an advisory body misbehaves, any president who doesn't wish to rock his own boat simply thanks the committee and ignores the advice. In fact, the committee's crime in this case was the committee's public complaint that the president has been ignoring its advice by not appointing enough women. In the face of these lamentations, Mr. Carter had two sensible choices.He could have agreed to appoint more women or he could have continued to ignore the committee and sailed on as before.As of the hour before the firing, organized women's groups have been too weak politically to matter much. If feminists have the power to tip elections, they've yet to demonstrate it, but who knows how many votes and volunteers they may have picked up from politically inert women who were miffed at seeing Abzug kicked out of her not very important job just for saying what everybody knows -- namely that the majority of government officials chosen by Mr. Carter and every one of his 38 predecessors are men.
That the president doesn't look on the women's question as a very dangerous one can be seen by the type of people he appointed to the committee in the first place. Most of them are ardent and unsquelchable advocates of a better deal for their gender. No president possessed of even the least threads of sanity would appoint only black activists to the United States Civil Rights Commission, another largely honorific body empowered to do nothing more than sniff around and make recommendations. The race question however, is recognized as sufficiently charged with trouble to ensure that the appointees are to some degree "balanced," i.e. unenthusiastic enough about civil rights not to want to do too much about them.
Sometimes a president will appoint one of these committees or commissions, be very pained by its conclusions and just have to live with the results. That's what happened to President Nixon when he got the report from his Commission on Population Growth, a body created at the suggestion of John D. Rockefeller III. That was back in the days when the Rockefellers were still a grand family and hadn't yet got into marketing cheap copies of objets d'art as Nelson has done. Back then you didn't treat John D. I, II, III or any number the way President Carter can treat Bella who is, after all, a defeated ex-office holder better known for the size of her mouth than the quality of its contents. (The lady has often been bum rapped, however. During her years as a representative, Abzug often performed signal and gusty service.)
At the time of the Population Commission's report, which said nice things about birth control and abortion, Mr. Nixon was courting the socially conservative Catholic-Baptist vote, so he was not pleased. But he muted his dislike of the advice offered him and, as far as anybody knows, didn't put any of the Rockefellers on the enemies' list. But the Rockefellers, whose brains are in lockstep with whatever banality is in vogue in establishmentarian circles, prevailed. The Supreme Court discovered that abortion was a constitutional right, albeit somewhat to the surprise of the shades of Madison and Jefferson.
While many committee appointments are for defeated fellow party members a president doesn't want in his administration, or for a money giver of insufficient importance to merit being made an ambassadorial burden to an innocent third world government, many should be taken seriously. It was just such a committee that helped shape the Marshall Plan for Harry Truman.
Presidential commissions of the kind that aren't to be lightly regarded and which will not incur White House irritation tend to be heavily stocked with white males, which certainly lets Abzug's gang out. These same white males usually come from outfits like the Council on Foreign Relations or the Committee for Economic Development or the Brookings Institution or from a number of other familiar stops on the big business-foundation university circuit.
If the president ever puts Abzug on another of those committees, the best way for her to keep the job is to go to work for a Wall Street law firm and have a sex change operation.