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Most Americans still “aren’t ready” for a female president, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) told syndicated columnist Cal Thomas in an interview earlier this week. ”I don’t think there is a lot of pent-up desire for a woman president,” she said.

The reaction to Bachmann’s latest comment is no surprise. “I found her remarks shocking and disappointing, especially since she took the initiative to run for president herself,” said Marianne Schnall, author of “What Will It Take to Make a Woman President?” ”Why would she do that if she felt this way?”

Even Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who lost his own bid for the presidency in 2008, told CNN’s Piers Morgan that former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton “would most likely” win if the election were held tomorrow.

“I just have a very different reading of the political scene,” McCain explained. He cited “the growth of women” in Congress, as well as the many female mayors and governors throughout the country. “We’re proud we’ve had women governors here in Arizona, two in a row.”

A Rasmussen Reports telephone poll in January found that “voters remain overwhelmingly willing to vote for a woman for president.” In fact, 77 percent believe a woman will be elected president within the next 10 years. Only 18 percent thought it unlikely.

“I would say that everybody I spoke with — Republicans and Democrats — thought we were indeed ready for a woman president,” Schnall said.  In doing the research for her book, she spoke with more than four dozen politicians, public officials, thought leaders, writers, artists and activists.

“Well, I think we are more ready for it than we think we are,” poet Maya Angelou told Schnall. “I mean, if anyone had asked you five years ago, ‘Do you think we’re ready for a black president?’ it’s very likely that the wagging of the head would have been, ‘No, no no — not yet.’ However, we’re readier than we thought we were. And I think that’s true about women.”

Bachmann addressed the election of the first African American to the office in her interview as well, saying: “I think there was a cachet about having an African American president because of guilt.” She did not elaborate, so Thomas surmised it was guilt over “slavery and the lengthy denial of civil rights to blacks.”

Yet several of those interviewed by Schnall for her book contradicted Bachmann’s analysis, believing instead that the country would elect a woman before an African American for president. “I would have been certain that we would see a woman president before we saw a black president,” New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof told Schnall.

“Well, I do think we’re ready and prepared (for a woman president),” former Republican senator Olympia J. Snowe said in Schnall’s book. “I think in looking back at history, you have to have more women running to even get to a place where the country is focused on a female candidate for president.”

Women have been elected to the House and Senate in record-breaking numbers (although far from parity), and several women have gained attention for their presidential campaigns. Donna Brazile, vice chair of the Democratic National Committee, cited Shirley Chisholm’s campaign in 1972, Pat Schroeder’s in 1988 and Elizabeth Dole’s in 2000.

Chisholm deserves credit for paving the way, said Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.). “She charted the course for a woman to be president, and I think because of her and because of the movement, the country is about ready.”

“The country is ready; the electoral ground is fertile,” agreed Brazile. “The country now is eager to see a woman run and compete successfully for the White House.”

Schnall said she believes “there is a huge groundswell of excitement and energy, of women and men, toward reaching this milestone.”

Men aren’t the problem in getting a woman elected, Pat Mitchell, president and chief executive of the Paley Center for Media, told Schnall. “I think men have been ready longer than women have been ready in a funny way,” she said. “There are enough men who have seen or experienced the leadership of women to believe that it is absolutely within our province and that women can do it just as well, if not better, than men.”

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), a former House speaker, admitted to Schnall that she believed a woman would be in the Oval Office before the House would ever shatter “the marble ceiling,” as she called it, and elect a female speaker.

“The American people are very, very ready for a woman president,” Pelosi said. “They’re far ahead of the politicians.”

Does she have a point?

Diana Reese
Diana Reese is a journalist in Overland Park, Kan. Follow her on Twitter at @dianareese.

When the words John F. Kennedy and women are mentioned in the same breath, what usually comes to mind are his tawdry infidelities. But there is another side of the story.

When he spoke the words “My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,” young women of what would be called The Kennedy Generation thought he was talking to us. He was our president. We had grown up in the shadow of Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower, and politics, we thought, were an old man’s game. Then Kennedy came along and challenged us. Our generation responded.

The Silent Generation, as we had been called, was silent no more. And that included the women among us. His call to public service touched our lives, as well as those of our brothers.

Look at what happed with some of those women.

Madeline Albright became secretary of state; Barbara Jordan became the first southern black woman elected to the United States House of Representatives and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Gloria Steinem, a leader of the women’s movement, was just this week among a group of barrier-breaking women to win the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Nancy Pelosi became the first female U.S. House majority leader; Eleanor Holmes Norton is the delegate to the U.S. Congress from the District of Columbia; Senators Barbara Mikulski of Maryland and Dianne Feinstein of California; Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg; Attorney General Janet Reno. Diane Nash led some of the most successful civil rights campaigns, including the Freedom Riders and integrating lunch counters in the South.

The new chair of the Federal Reserve, Janet Yellen, was 17 when JFK died.

Some of us went into journalism and changed its face. Our generation led the fight to open up newsrooms to women. Betsy Wade was the named plaintiff of the suit against the New York Times and other women followed suit at the Associated Press, Newsweek and elsewhere.

My best friend in high school, Clare Crawford-Mason, did the first stories for network television on battered women. Nora Ephron was an intern in the JFK White House and quipped–with her usual flair–that the only thing that kept her from a passionate affair with the president was a bad permanent wave. She, of course, went on to become a great filmmaker and playwright.

When Ephron was an intern, I was a young reporter, thrilled to have an office in the National Press Building, working for a small news bureau. The excitement at being so near the nexus of power made up for my meager salary.

Nov. 22, 1963

I remember that Nov. 22, 1963, was a slow news day in Washington. The president was out of town, in Dallas to help iron out a battle between two feuding factions in the Texas Democratic Party.

Near midday, the man who delivered press releases opened the door and said, “There’s been gunfire in Dallas.”

I rushed next door to the UPI office and read on the news ticker the first words of the report by UPI’s Merriman Smith.

Three shots were fired at President Kennedy’s motorcade in downtown Dallas.

I dashed out of the UPI office and ran to the White House. I couldn’t think of anything else to do.

Other reporters had the same idea and we crowded into the foyer near the Oval Office. A TV set was tuned to CBS, where Walter Cronkite came on camera, in his shirtsleeves. A man handed him a piece of paper. Cronkite looked at it, removed his glasses and read, struggling to maintain his composure, “From Dallas, Texas, the flash, apparently official: ‘President Kennedy died at 1 p.m. Central Standard Time. Two o’clock Eastern Standard Time, some 38 minutes ago.’”

One of the reporters in the foyer starting punching the back cushion of a green leather armchair; I just stood in shock, not really believing this could be happening. We didn’t shoot our presidents in America.

I covered the funeral, along with my late husband, Alan Lupo (who would become a Boston Globe columnist). We were given the standard white press badges that said “Trip of the President,” because no one had made up any new ones.

A few years earlier, when I was the editor of my college newspaper, I had interviewed Kennedy when he was a senator. In the middle of the interview in his Senate office, a bell rang that signaled a vote on the floor. He invited me to go with him to the chamber to cast his vote. Heads turned as we walked along, and though I thought I looked pretty spiffy that day in my new dress and high heels, I knew the glances weren’t for me. Heads turned after him like flowers bending towards the sun. We climbed into the tram that ran underground to the chamber, and as I was taking notes, my clip earring fell off and rolled under his seat. He gallantly retrieved it for me. I was mortified! But I swallowed hard and kept asking questions. (I never wore earrings on assignment again.)

‘Glad You Made It’

When I came back to town as a real reporter, I screwed up my courage and reminded him of the interview. He grinned and said, “Glad you made it.” And he would call on me sometimes when a group of reporters was allowed into the Oval Office for a few questions.

All through the funeral weekend, I kept thinking about that day, and wishing I could go back to that moment, to that little tram, and I could say to him as he handed me back the fake gold coiled earring, “Mr. Kennedy, please, please, don’t go to Dallas in 1963! Don’t go to Dallas! They will kill you!”

When the rites were was over, Alan and I walked along the emptied Pennsylvania Avenue. The light was fading, it was cold and darkness would soon descend. A sailor walked by, his peacoat collar turned up against the wind and his shoulders hunched in grief.

The world had stopped for a time, but then went on; Alan and I continued with our lives. Would those lives have been different without JFK? I can’t say for sure, but certainly his call to service, his belief that government (and journalism) were forces that could change the world, became entangled in our own DNA.

Among the things Alan was proudest of is a marker that stands in Boston which bears his name. His reporting for the Boston Globe was a significant factor in the scrapping of the Inner Belt, a six-lane highway loop which would have torn through Boston’s urban neighborhoods and displaced thousands of residents.

Much of my own writing has been about people fighting for rights delayed; blacks, Vietnam vets, gays and lesbians and, of course, women. I’m proud to have been included, a few years ago, in a volume titled “Feminists Who Changed America.”

And we lived to see so much change: the civil rights laws, Title IX that gave women equal educational resources and a campaign in which a woman and an African American man could seriously contend for the presidency. Now, marriage equality seems unstoppable.

Few of these things were imaginable when JFK called us to service. And even if he didn’t have women in mind, we indeed believed he was talking to us.

Caryl Rivers is a professor of journalism at Boston University. Her novel “Camelot” has been republished as an e-book by Diversion press.


Hillary Clinton spoke Thursday about her “hypothetical” desire to see a woman president “in my lifetime,” the latest scrap of data fueling the  will-she-run-in-2016 chatter about the former senator and secretary of  state.

Clinton, whose language is always parsed for changes from speech to speech,  said at a Canadian speech, video of which was posted on YouTube, that such an  election would be important for the country.

“Let me say this, hypothetically speaking, I really do hope that we have a woman  president in my lifetime,” Clinton said in Toronto, before a women-centered  event Thursday. “And whether it’s next time or the next time after that, it  really depends on women stepping up and subjecting themselves to the political  process, which is very difficult.”

She added that President Barack Obama’s election was historic, and said, “I  hope that we will see a woman elected because I think it would send exactly the  right historic signal to girls, women as well as boys and men. And I will  certainly vote for the right woman to be president.”

It was a crowd that was receptive to such a message, even if she gave no hint  — beyond the playful “hypothetical” and “right woman” remarks — that she was  talking about herself.

hilary clinton

Friends and supporters of Clinton say she is genuinely undecided about  whether to run again, even if some of the moves she is making now, immersing  herself in domestic policy on issues affecting women and children that have been  the core of her life’s work, would certainly be helpful if she launches another  national campaign.

Yet that argument — the historic nature of a female president, combined with  a pent-up desire among women voters to break that barrier — is the one most  often espoused by Clinton backers.

Clinton spoke at the “Unique Lives and Experiences” conference. She was  interviewed by the head of a non-profit helping kids in war-torn areas.

“I think there is still truth to that, so you have to step up, you have to  dare to compete, you have to get into the process and then the country, our  country, has to take that leap of faith,” Clinton said, invoking fellow former  first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, as she often has over the years.