Girl power rules, and sometimes it can make a difference.
That’s what three teenagers from New Jersey hope to do next Tuesday. Emma Axelrod, Sammi Siegel and Elena Tsemberis have collected more than 130,000 signatures on a Change.org petition. Ultraviolet, an organization dedicated to expanding women’s rights and combating sexism, collected an additional 80,000 for the cause.
The three girls will present them to the Commission on Presidential Debates on Tuesday in Washington and ask the commissioners to appoint a woman moderator for one of three 2012 U.S. presidential debates between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.
“Visibility equals equality in many ways, and by supporting the call for a woman moderator, both presidential campaigns and the Commission can send a strong message that they value the input and wisdom of women,” Tsemberis said in a news release.
A woman hasn’t moderated a debate between presidential candidates since 1992, the year that was proclaimed the year of the woman.
In 1992, ABC’s Carole Simpson moderated the debate between Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Ross Perot in Richmond, Va. She is the only woman to have hosted one since the Commission on Presidential Debates was started.
Gwen Ifill of “PBS Newshour” moderated the vice presidential debates in 2004 and 2008.
The commission has said moderators will be announced in August.
“This is the perfect moment for us to take our message to the Commission on Presidential Debates and the two campaigns,” Siegel said in a news release. “With the Commission set to announce moderators next month, they’ll be hearing loud and clear from more than 130,000 Americans that two decades without a woman moderator is too long and needs to be changed.”
Of course, it’s time for another woman to moderate a debate. Since 1992, the United States has seen a major female Democratic presidential candidate – Hillary Clinton – and a female vice presidential candidate – Sarah Palin – on the Republican ticket. It’s also had three female secretaries of state – Madeline Albright, Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton.
On the petition’s Web site, possible moderators include Christiane Amanpour, Rachel Maddow, Katie Couric, Leslie Stahl, Diane Sawyer and Ifill. The Web site points out that the commission, which has 17 members, includes only three women.
One commenter on the page writes: “I’m signing because this year's presidential election is a critical one for women. Only a woman can honestly ask our candidates the questions that will impact our future.”
Another one writes, “A woman’s place is – moderating presidential debates!”
Janet Brown, executive director of the commission, told the Christian Science Monitor that they seek out seasoned TV broadcasters who “understand their job is to facilitate the conversation and focus their time on the candidates.”
While many of the petition signers prefer Maddow, Sawyer, the current anchor of “ABC World News,” comes to mind. Savvy and serious, Sawyer has covered major global events with coolness and calm. American voters identify with her and wouldn’t be quick to call her biased for either side.
A female leading the charge on a debate would certainly bring a different, and much-needed, perspective to the political circus. The time is now.
Suzi Parker is an Arkansas-based political and cultural journalist and author of “Sex in the South: Unbuckling the Bible Belt.” Follow her on Twitter at @SuziParker.