If not her, who?
Even if fate and voters deny Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton a chance at the presidency, this year's historic campaign has revealed something about the kind of female candidate who might someday emerge, and what strategies she might adopt in a run for the White House.
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, 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.
Oh, and she may not exist. This composite of Madam President is suggested by political strategists and talent scouts, politicians and those who study women in politics. It is based as much on the lessons of the Clinton candidacy as on the enduring truths of politics and the number and variety of women who dot the leadership landscape.
Polls suggest that the country is ready to elect a woman — if not as ready as many people might expect. In December, a Gallup poll found that 86 percent of Americans said they would vote for a well-qualified candidate who was a woman (of course, that percentage has been in the 80s for much of the last three decades). Ninety-three percent said the same of a well-qualified candidate who was black; 93 percent of a Catholic candidate; and 91 percent of a Jewish one.
Almost unanimously, the experts say that a successful contender will come from a younger generation than Sen, Clinton — promising, as Sen. Barack Obama has, to move to a post-boomer era, beyond the old identity politics, in his case, to be post-racial.
But as fundamental a change as that may be, much else seems unlikely to change. In fact, the biggest point of agreement seemed to be that there is no Hillary waiting in the wings.
Except, of course, Hillary.