Letter to the Editor

Power in Washington, D.C.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Dear Editor:

Once when I was teaching a class, a student asked me who I thought was the second most powerful person in Washington. Conventional wisdom told me it was the vice president, but this is not necessarily so.

During the glory days of the unions, labor leaders like John Lewis, George Meany, and Walter Reuther, had as much clout as anyone in government. During his 48 year reign at the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover had an extremely powerful influence, catching gangsters, capturing wartime saboteurs, and perhaps even overstepping the law himself.

Some people believe that the White House chief of staff is No. 2 in D.C., since it is he who decides who the president will see and won't see. Others feel that the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board is the No. 2 person due to his control over the money supply and interest rates. In addition, there have been powerful Speakers of the House (Raybum, and McCormack) and Senate Majority Leaders (Mansfield and Baker).

But I told the student it was none of the above. I believe the second most powerful person in Washington is the first lady of the United States. Some of these ladies have shown their influence in a public way (Mrs. Roosevelt, Mrs. Reagan, and Mrs. Clinton), while others in a more quiet, retiring way (Mrs. Truman, Mrs. Eisenhower, Mrs. Bush). One first lady, Edith Wilson, is said to have had tremendous influence after President Wilson's stroke, to the point that she has been called the nation's first woman president.

Yes, there are a lot of powerful men and women in the capital. But it is the woman who lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue who holds the real clout.

David Shipp