We Americans, whatever our partisan inclinations and affiliations, have endured and resolved another long and bruising presidential primary season.
    Both Democrats and Republicans have settled upon candidates for president. Both John McCain and Barack Obama are now pondering and vetting various vice-presidential possibilities.
    In every way, 2008 is shaping up as the year of historic political firsts: The first woman to run a viable campaign for president.
    The first person of color to win his party’s nomination for president.
    The first person over the age of 70 to win his party’s nomination for president.
    One of these "firsts" will be our next president, and we now know it will not be the first woman. Hillary Clinton ran a competitive campaign but bowed out because she did not have the numbers.
    Do you see the next woman coming who will be both willing and able to mount and sustain a campaign for president? Where, oh where, can she be?
    Perhaps she is in Congress or will be. But the Congressional women who have achieved national name recognition, Senators Dianne Feinstein, Kay Bailey Hutchison, Patty Murray and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, are more toward the ends of their careers than the beginnings. Maybe she is in Congress, and we do not know her yet. The numbers are not huge, 16 percent of the House members are women and 16 of 100 Senators, but maybe she is among the younger ranks of these women. The reality is, though, that more of our presidents have come from state offices rather than from Congress, so perhaps she is serving in a state office.
    {mosimage}A recent piece in the New York Times by Kate Zernike notes that women currently make up about a quarter of state legislators and statewide elected officials. Look at our own state’s slate of candidates this year. A woman has an excellent chance of becoming our next governor, and we will absolutely elect a woman to the United States Senate as both parties’ nominees are women. Perhaps she is one of my colleagues now.
    A significant number of our presidents have, in fact, been governors, so maybe she is among those ranks or will be. Names that are being bandied about now include Governors Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas, Janet Napolitano of Arizona, and Sarah Palin of Alaska.
    Or perhaps we haven’t heard of her yet. Perhaps our first woman president is so far into our nation’s future that she has not been born. Even though we do not see her face yet, or perhaps because we do not, speculation abounds, both published and over water coolers throughout the nation.
    Here is how Zernike of the Times put it.
"That woman will come from the South, or west of the Mississippi. She will be a Democrat who has won in a red state, or a Republican who has emerged from the private sector to run for governor. She will have executive experience, and have served in a job like attorney general, where she will have proven herself to be 'a fighter' (a caring one, of course).
    "She will be young enough to qualify as post feminist (in the way Senator Barack Obama has come off as post racial), unencumbered by the battles of the past. She will be married with children, but not young children. She will be emphasizing her experience, and, yes, wearing pantsuits."
    I certainly have never read any speculation like that about a male candidate for any office, which brings up another topic.
    Because she was first, Hillary Clinton was on the receiving end of media unlike that of her male counterparts. Remember when she teared up on the campaign trail? That was reported time and time again as showing her "feminine side," her "humanity," a "tender Hillary." Do you know any human being, man or woman, who has never wept over something?
    Then there were the jokes, some truly cruel. That Hillary Clinton would never get the male vote because men look at her and see their ex-wives — and then there was David Letterman’s wisecrack that when Clinton needed to raise more campaign funds she should enter a "wet pantsuit" contest.
    Did you hear that kind of thing about any other presidential candidate?
    Our first woman president may or may not be out there somewhere in America listening to all of this, and if she is, it may or may not give her pause in her own political ambitions.
    I think when the dust settles on the 2008 presidential race with all its "firsts," we are going to see and acknowledge that for whatever reasons, female candidates at the highest level are still treated and viewed differently than male candidates of whatever race, even though that may not be the case in state and local races.
    I do not see our first woman president coming yet, and she may not arrive during my lifetime. But please let me know if you get a glimpse of her striding across America toward the White House.


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