Oh, Jack. How could you have misjudged us so?
I refer, of course, to Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, who happily went along with a White House plan to let President Barack Obama make a little (more) history. Early in Obama’s presidency, it was decided that his administration would put a woman’s face on a form of paper money.
All Lew had to do was decide which bill and whose face.
(The last time a woman was on our paper money was in the 1880s and 1890s, when Martha Washington, George’s wife, was etched on a $1 silver certificate. The little used, rarely seen Susan B. Anthony silver dollars, minted between 1979 and 1981 and again in 1999, don’t really count. Neither do Sacagawea dollars, named after the Shoshone woman who helped Lewis and Clark explore the Louisiana Purchase.)
Now, even as a woman runs seriously for president of our 240-year-old nation, no female is on paper money. For years, as a columnist, I have been pointing out that this is unfair for many reasons, not least that women spend an awful lot of paper money.
Lew et al. suggested a woman might be put on the $20 bill. “Hurrah,” exulted reasonable women everywhere. “About time! And who cares much about Andrew Jackson, anyway? Get rid of him.” But then it turned out a redesigned $10 bill was in the works for anti-counterfeiting reasons, and Lew announced a woman would be on the $10 bill, pending a national discourse on who it would be.
Reasonable women everywhere felt let down, devalued, spurned. To be halved in value without even a debate?
At the same time the most popular musical on Broadway became a rap ode to Alexander Hamilton, the first treasury secretary, current face of the $10 bill and architect of our interesting, if complicated financial system. Hamilton is now beloved! Everywhere you go in New York City, you see a tribute to (an ad for) “Hamilton”! Thus, reasonable women everywhere feel sort of churlish demanding that he be booted off the 10-spot.
Many pointed out that Jackson kicked many Native Americans off their land and was opposed to the concept of a large national banking system, while Hamilton was a Founding Father.
Lew, showing the instincts of a primordial man, suggested that maybe Hamilton and a woman could both be on the $10 bill. Reasonable women everywhere weren’t amused. To go from a 20 to a 10 to half of a 10 seemed to be the wrong direction. Lew, who was supposed to make a decision last December, metaphorically called in sick.
That prompted Jackie Calmes of The New York Times to delve into the comments the Treasury has been receiving. People are furious! They think Lew, who had a good reputation at Treasury, is a nincompoop.
At least more people know who Lew is than would have before the uproar, although he is very busy working to raise global awareness about the opportunities for the private and public sectors to advance financial inclusion and trying to figure out what to do about the economic collapse of Puerto Rico.
You might be wondering, with all the millions of women to choose from, who remains in contention to be the lucky one chosen. Not surprisingly, reasonable women everywhere are loath to state a favorite, worried about alienating someone who might feel strongly about a different face.
The four leading contenders for the tenner are Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks, who became emblematic of the civil rights movement when she refused to move to the back of the bus, Harriet Tubman, who escaped slavery to become a leading abolitionist before the Civil War, and Susan B. Anthony, a social activist who fought against slavery and fought for women’s right to vote. Oprah can’t be in the running because she is living; one must be dead to be pictured on our money.
Lew probably won’t punt by choosing Elizabeth Hamilton, Alexander Hamilton’s wife who co-founded New York City’s first orphanage.
Supposedly, an announcement will come “soon,” although the first bill won’t roll off the presses until 2020. (All that anti-counterfeiting technology takes time.)
Whoever is chosen, Lew probably will not come out ahead.