Waiting for the first Madam President

Don't hold your breath.

By Katharine Mieszkowski
May 23, 2008 6:36PM (UTC)
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With Hillary Clinton less likely every day to be the Democratic nominee for president, the guessing game is to try to predict when the first American woman will serve as commander in chief.

A story in last Sunday's New York Times, titled "She Just Might Be President Someday" and another one in Thursday's Washington Post, called "The 'Not Clinton' Excuse," paint a pretty grim picture of the prospects. Let's just say, if you want to live to see the day that the first female president takes charge in the Oval Office, I hope you're young.


From interviews with political operatives, strategists and scholars, the Times' Kate Zernike paints a portrait of the ideal female candidate: "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 postfeminist (in the way Senator Barack Obama has come off as postracial), unencumbered by the battles of the past. She will be married with children, but not young children. She will be emphasizing her experience, and wearing, yes, pantsuits."

Here's the kicker: "Oh, and she may not exist."


Over at the Washington Post, Marie Cocco argues that it's unlikely that any woman, much less the ideal candidate, will make a serious run at the presidency for decades: "The record suggests that if Clinton is not the nominee, no woman will seriously contend for the White House for another generation. This was the outcome of the 1984 Geraldine Ferraro experiment. After 24 years, Ferraro remains the only woman ever to run for national office on a major-party ticket. And she was selected, not elected, as a vice presidential candidate."

If a generation sounds like a long time to wait for the next serious female contender, I'm sorry to say that that time frame may be overly optimistic. At least, according to Karen O'Connor, the director of the Women and Politics Institute at American University, who is quoted in the Times piece as predicting: "I think it's going to be generations."

Katharine Mieszkowski

Katharine Mieszkowski is a senior writer for Salon.

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