John Siniff, @jmsiniff, USA TODAY
A woman will lead the U.S. Secret Service in just the latest high-profile success story for women in Washington. The fact that such appointments are low-key events reflects the nation's progress.
When Secret Service agents were found to be splitting their time between the president of the United States and prostitutes, the agency known best for dark sunglasses, ear pieces and stopwatch discipline had a blush-worthy image problem.
The nearly year-old scandal that started in Cartagena, Colombia, came to a turning point Tuesday when President Obama named Julia Pierson, a longtime Secret Service agent, to become the agency's first female director.
MORE: Obama appoints first female head of Secret Service
In naming the 53-year-old Pierson, Obama did more than fill the post vacated by director Mark Sullivan, who retired after doing his own walk of shame in testimony before Congress. Obama sent a clear message that the good ol' boys' clubs of decades past must be bleached from our nation's fabric.
For a president who spent the first few weeks of his second term defending the dearth of women in his circle of senior advisers, critics might diminish Pierson's appointment as simply smart politics.
But it's more than that.
Though Pierson's credentials are impressive and she is "eminently qualified," as the president put it, she serves a dual purpose: She can cleanse an agency stained by the acts of a few while buttressing the president's case that whether in the nation's courtrooms, on the battlefield or even in protecting the lives of himself and his family, women can stand toe-to-toe with men — and in many cases lead the way to a better place.
Granted, this country seems a world away from the days of Tailhook, the scandal that rocked the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps in 1991. At that aviation convention in Las Vegas, scores of allegations of sexual assault and other indecent behavior shocked the nation's conscience, but it was the flat-footed reaction of the military at the time that was so jaw-slackening.
The nation has seen plenty of female firsts since Tailhook: U.S. attorney general (Janet Reno, 1993), secretary of State (Madeleine Albright, 1996), national security adviser (Condoleezza Rice, 2001; also become secretary of State, 2005) and speaker of the House of Representatives (Nancy Pelosi, 2007), to name a few in Washington's realm.
It's a testament to this nation's progress that Tailhook no longer feels like business as usual and that an appointment of yet another woman to a high post in Washington is greeted not with fanfare, but with a yawn.