Over 10 years ago, former president Richard Nixon was saying, "A woman can and should be able to do any political job that a man can do." He, of course, was right, but he never appointed a woman to the Cabinet or Supreme Court or any other post that might have led to the White House.
More recently, Rosalynn Carter has been saying, "It is just a matter of time until we have a woman president." Nevertheless, during her husband's term, no woman, except possibly Mrs. Carter herself, has been cast in the kind of star role that inspires presidential specualtion.
It has been left to Ronald Reagan to go beyong these empty generalities, and to start talking pointedly about choosing a woman for his running mate. While it may be only talk, Reagan nonetheless is the first head of a ticket of either major party to incude women on his vice presidential priority list. That's quite an advance in itself.
In formally listing Anne Armstrong, former U.S. ambassador to Britain, and Nancy Kassebaum, the new Republican senator from Kansas, as potential members of the 1980 GOP presidential slate, the former California governor has focused the spotlight on two women who have already attracted wide and favorable public attention.
Although most of the old Republican pros don't take the prospective nominee's action very seriously, they could be wrong, for Reagan clearly needs shoring up on the distaff side, and an attractive, respected woman on the ticket might help him more than a male mediocrity.
It is generally assumed that the independent candidacy of Rep. John Anderson will hurt President Carter more than it will hurt Reagan, but Anderson is also going to attract dissident Republican voters, particularly women who have been alienated by Reagan's implacable hostility to the equal rights movement.
Anderson has ardently campaigned for the ERA. In addition, he is at odds with Reagan in opposing efforts to ban the public funding of abortions. The polls indicate Anderson's views are shared by a large bloc of Republican, as well as Democratic, women.
A pro-ERA plank has been in the Republican platform since 1972. If, as reported, the Reagan forces try to eliminate the plank this year, they will encounter sharp resistance, probably led by Mary Crisp, the bright and spunky co-chairman of the Republican National Committee. The temporary chairman of the 1980 GOP convention, Sen. Kassebaum, is also a supporter of the ERA.
Crisp, who also serves as Arizona's Republican National Committeewoman, makes no effort to conceal her admiration for John Anderson. In fact, she told the Chicago Sun-Times that Anderson was the answer to "the big dilemma" facing Republican women and others who support the equal rights movement. Moreover, she was quoted as saying that an Anderson victory is not "so farfetched."
The history of presidential slate-making suggests that the vice-presidential choice seldom makes much difference in the outcome of the election. Certainly few of the men now being proposed as Reagan running mates are seen as magnetic figures, as the primaries showed. So, why not a top-notch woman instead? There could be much to gain and, in any case, little to lose.
One of the intriguing aspects of such a combination is the possibility that it might lead to America's first woman president, not just through the demise of the head of the ticket, but by the vagaries of the Constitution if the Nov. 4 election ends up in Congress, as it well could.
In that eventuality, the House, if it is not deadlocked, would elect the president, and the Senate would elect the vice president. The Democrats control both chambers of the present 96th Congress, but the Republicans are confidently looking forward to substantial gains this fall, especially in the Senate.
Should the GOP capture the Senate, it would of course, elect Reagan's running mate as vice president, who would become the acting president on Jan. 20 if a deadlocked House was unable to agree by then on a new president.
A stalemate in the House is not at all farfetched, for each state, regardless of size, has only one vote, and the Constitution requires an absolute-majority of 26 votes for election. In the current Congress, 29 state delegations are controlled by the Democrats, 12 by the Republicans, and 9 are tied, which eliminates their vote.
The Democrats, however, have an edge of only one vote in five states, and an edge of merely two votes in five other states. Hence, it is easy to see how the switch of only a few votes in the next Congress could block a 26-vote majoity, thus leaving it to the Senate to choose an acting president.
In the final analysis, however, the male-dominated House would doubtless break any deadlock rather than face the prospect of a woman occupying the Oval Office as the acting president.