Hillary: The 'First Next Lady'

This undated publicity photo provided by PBS, courtesy of MAKERS, shows Hillary Clinton, first female major party presidentia
This undated publicity photo provided by PBS, courtesy of MAKERS, shows Hillary Clinton, first female major party presidential candidate and former U.S. Secretary of State, as well as a pioneering and controversial former First Lady, in the film,"Makers: Women Who Make America." The three-hour PBS documentary about the fight for women's equality, airs Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013, and features prominent activists including Gloria Steinem and Marlo Thomas. (AP Photo/PBS, Courtesy of MAKERS)

On a snowy February evening in 2008 my friend Marcia and I squeezed into the cafeteria of a Topeka middle school to attend our Super Tuesday Democratic Party Caucus.

There were 900 of us shoehorned into a room with a reported fire code capacity for 750. I had initially thought I might skip this caucusing opportunity. I was too undecided between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

But the night before I resolved to stand for Hillary. I was fed up with the snarky sexism that had met her candidacy, from Carl Bernstein's remarks about her thick ankles (the term now is "cankles"), and the sneers from other pundits about her laugh, her hair and her high or low neckline.

So, pushed by scorn for critics of her cankles, her coif, her cackle and her cleavage, I lined up on the side of the room for the former first lady and senator from New York. We were mostly white women, veterans of the women's movement, women of a certain age and level of experience. There were 213 of us. Across the room the Obama side radiated numbers, energy and racial diversity.

On the way out the door I poached an Obama button, ostensibly for my son. I never gave him the button because the very next day I switched my own allegiance. The button was my badge. I was a Democrat who read the tea leaves. Obama had the electricity of change, and I wanted to win.

Flash back to spring of 1992. I am in another bustling crowd, this time at the Kansas Statehouse to see Hillary Clinton, 44 years old, campaigning for her husband Bill, then Governor of Arkansas, in his first presidential run.

I wanted to see what the buzz was about. Frankly I was cynical. As I entered the old Supreme Court chambers, I wisecracked to an acquaintance: "This is progress? Now we have a dynamic, rather than a submissive, woman behind her man?"

But I was wowed. The Yale Law School grad spoke fluidly and forcefully without notes.

Afterward, as the audience broke up, I overheard comments like, "Why doesn't she run?" At the time I considered such talk cheap, since it required no follow-through at the ballot box. I also predicted that we would see a black man as president before we saw a woman of any color in the office, which would mimic the suffrage struggle, in which black men garnered the vote 50 years before women.

Actually, the first referendum on woman suffrage was in my home state of Kansas in 1867. Susan B. Anthony's brother Daniel lived in Leavenworth, and was editor of a Leavenworth newspaper. In fact, the suffragist had spent part of 1865 working on the Leavenworth Bulletin.

At the time of the referendum, Kansas was a hotbed of abolitionism. In fact, referenda for woman suffrage and Negro suffrage were held in tandem, although both were defeated. During the Kansas campaign, Susan B. Anthony traveled the state with roguish George Francis Train, a flamboyant fellow with deep pockets. He later bankrolled the founding of the newspaper The Revolution, published by Anthony and edited by Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

Train was a flaming racist. Anthony and Stanton themselves were guilty of bigoted statements. When most of their Abolitionist colleagues focused on winning the right for black men to vote with the 15th Amendment, arguing "This hour belongs to the negro," the suffragists felt abandoned in their push for universal suffrage. But the suffrage victories for black men and women of any color were a half century apart.

So American political culture stayed true to itself, and in 2008 Obama scaled the highest elective office in the land. The racial barrier was broken.

Women are eagerly waiting. On that day at the Kansas Statehouse in 1992, State Treasurer Sally Thompson stumbled when she introduced Hillary, calling her our "First Next Lady." Our "Next Lady" is exactly what Hillary has been. Since her defeat in the Democratic primaries, she has served energetically as Secretary of State, logging a million miles and visiting 112 countries, and adding comprehensive foreign policy expertise to her already impressive domestic portfolio. Even her weakest moment, the 9/11 anniversary attack of the Benghazi Consulate, showed her strength as she put the situation in perspective and Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson in his place at the Senate hearings.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll released Dec. 5, 2012, indicated a majority of Americans (57 percent) would support a Hillary Clinton presidency. Her overall popularity was at 66 percent, with 68 percent of respondents approving her performance as secretary of state.

In a Feb. 14 piece in The Daily Beast, Clinton insider James Carville was quoted: "My fervent hope is that Hillary runs. If I've talked to a Democrat who doesn't want her to run, I can't remember it. The classic thing to say about presidential elections is that Democrats are looking to fall in love and that Republicans fall in line. This time, it's the Democrats who are falling in line, and the Republicans are looking for somebody to fall in love with."

I'd say the Democrats are both in line and in love. And the nation is ready to break through the gender barrier and elect a female president. And who better qualified than Hillary, who is seasoned, savvy and has incredible presence? Surely, we won't mimic suffrage and wait another 50 years. As a great meme states on the Ready for Hillary Facebook page: "Looking forward to the day when I ask you to clarify which President Clinton you're talking about."

President Hillary Clinton: I hope it's what's next for the "First Next Lady."