Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Time for Madame President?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Time for Madame President?

Article excerpt

It's 2-1/2 years before the next presidential election, and already Iowa and New Hampshire are swarming with White House wannabes.

All are men, almost all are white. Most of the faces are reruns from the last three races. The public, so far, is yawning.

The time is ripe, some pundits suggest, for a qualified woman with a vision for the country to step forward and make the run. Even if she didn't win her party's nomination, the thinking goes, she would add a female face to an overwhelmingly male club, expanding the public's notion of who could run for president and subtly encouraging other women to jump in. Historian Robert Dallek sees a growing public cynicism about men as president, spurred by the allegations of sexual misdeeds by President Clinton but fueled by some of his predecessors. "There is a certain leeriness that has been generated by this scandal, as well as the endless allegations about President Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson also having been a womanizer," says Professor Dallek, author of a new Johnson biography. "The country might be much more comfortable having a woman. That's not because people are naive enough to think that women don't sin, but generally, I think they feel that women would be much less prone to this kind of temptation than a man {would be}." Mr. Clinton's high job approval ratings are a reflection of the economy, says Dallek, not a sign of forgiveness. Republican pollster Linda Divall thinks we'll see a female president in the next 10 to 20 years. But she and other observers of women in politics see the Clinton sex scandal only as a possible background factor in any woman's decision to run, not a prime motivator. Running for president is a complicated business. You need a fund-raising base, an electoral base, and a compelling, explainable reason for doing it - a vision or a set of issues that click with voters. You also have to be willing to travel across the country for two or three years before the election and withstand harsh scrutiny of your life. "I suspect no woman would campaign around {the sex issue}," says Laura Liswood, executive director of the Council of Women World Leaders at Harvard University. "It would just have to be symbolically assumed." But because voters tend to react to the last presidency when they vote, she says, a woman candidate might get some benefit from running to replace Clinton. A more important factor paving the way for a woman president may be the end of the cold war. It used to be that presidential candidates had to have military service on their resumes to pass muster - with the important exception of President Reagan, who overcame his lack of service with his charisma and strong anticommunism. Now, military service is optional. In addition, the nation's agenda has changed. …

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