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We are approaching a new generation of first ladies. Whatever else you think about the progress of the current presidential campaign, or the caliber of candidates, the fact is we are soon to have a president whose wife is cut out of a different cloth than Barbara Bush.

Not that there is anything wrong with our current first lady.But the new breed of presidential candidates are married to professional women who not only have strong ideas and lives outside the home, but may have trouble setting it aside during a husband's presidential tenure.

Obviously, I'm thinking of Hillary Clinton, but the same can be said about Nikki Tsongas and Ruth Harkin.

It so happens that Clinton, Tsongas and Harkin are all successful attorneys.

Especially is that true of Clinton, the wife of the front-runner. Chicago bred and Yale-educated, she is the first female partner in Arkansas' most prestigious law firm and was twice named by the National Law Journal as one of the 100 most influential lawyers in America.

She has been called by her peers a quick study, disciplined, methodical and one of the best trial attorneys in Arkansas.

In fact, those who know her well have said that she could have also succeeded in New York, Los Angeles or any other large city and that she is probably brighter than her bright husband, a Rhodes scholar who met his wife at Yale Law School.

So what happens if Hillary Clinton becomes first lady? Does she relinquish the practice of law and start performing in the ceremonial role we expect of the president's wife? Or does she continue to try high-powered cases and get continuing criticism about possible conflicts of interest?

I don't know the answer to those questions, but I think Hillary Clinton would at least be an interesting first lady who would play a prominent role in decision-making - maybe as interesting as Eleanor Roosevelt, the last really substantive first lady.

But what about this idea?

If Clinton gets the Democratic nomination, why doesn't he choose Hillary as his vice presidential running mate?

That may sound off the wall at first, but think about it.

Since neither the first lady nor the vice president has been very substantive in the past, we would have a chance to get a substantive person with an impressive track record in both jobs. Besides, she is close to the candidate.

She could still perform some ceremonial functions both as first lady and as vice president, just as the president occasionally performs ceremonial duties. But she would be an active participant in Cabinet meetings and planning sessions, and would be learning everything she would need to know should she suddenly be catapulted to the top spot.

That is preparation only Vice Presidents Walter Mondale and George Bush have been given in the modern presidency.

Most of the time the president chooses someone to balance the ticket who will not rock the boat, then forgets about him.

You couldn't forget about Hillary Clinton.

There is always the danger, of course, that she would become more popular than her husband. In fact, some political pros think she already is.

But even if that's true, a wife can complement her husband without pushing him aside, the way another male politician might do if he had the same brilliance and energy as Hillary Clinton.

The last time anyone thought of doing this was in 1988 when Sen. Robert Dole battled Bush for the GOP nomination. His wife, Elizabeth, has had long training in government, and so people talked about a Dole-Dole ticket.

The first Dole lost, but the second Dole served in Bush's Cabinet.

This year, let's go with Clinton-Clinton.