Why not a woman for vice-president? Sen. Lyndon Johnson, diplomat Henry Cabot Lodge, Sen. Hubert Humphrey, Rep. William E. Miller, Gov. Spiro Agnew, Sen. Edmund Muskie, Sen. Thomas Eagleton, Sen. Walter Mondale, Sen. Robert Dole, Ambassador George Bush - the Republican and Democratic ticket mates since 1960 are not all that unrelievedly impressive. To argue for an exclusive male club for White House nominees - for the presidency, too, for that matter - makes little sense on the grounds of qualification, training, public achievement, or the readiness of the public to vote for a woman.
We would prefer to think of the vice-presidential choice as independent of the first place on the ticket, rather than as a balancing factor. Prospects of a vice-president having to succeed a president in the Oval Office are so serious that each candidate on the major party tickets should be sufficiently qualified to stand on his or her own merits. Ideally, gender, too, should not be a factor.
Recognizing, however, that geography, age, ideology, and experience will be taken into account politically to ''balance'' the campaign tickets for 1984, gender may be considered, too.
Are there qualified women, that is, potential candidates knowledgeable and experienced in national affairs who would bring ideological, regional balance to a ticket? There sure are. Republicans: Sen. Nancy Kassebaum of Kansas, Cabinet member Elizabeth Dole from North Carolina, Rep. Claudine Schneider of Rhode Island, Rep. Marge Roukema of New Jersey, Supreme Court Justice Sandra O'Connor from Arizona, for starters. Democrats: Rep. Geraldine Ferraro of New York, Rep. Pat Schroeder of Colorado, Rep. Lindy Boggs of Louisiana, Mayor Dianne Feinstein of San Francisco, former Cabinet member Patricia Harris. Outside of politics, there are women of grand stature: University of Chicago president Hannah Gray, for example. There are North-South, moderate-conservative-liberal combinations to draw from. All would be articulate, formidable campaigners.
Would a woman on a ticket make a difference? This year it would, at least marginally for the Democrats and considerably for the Republicans, given the ''gender gap'' edge the Democrats enjoy at the moment. On the GOP side, if Mr. Reagan runs again, he is already committed to George Bush. In terms of a Reagan candidacy, women's attitudes work strongly in the Democrats' favor. Women voters gave Democratic contenders Walter Mondale and John Glenn their recent leads over Reagan; among men voters alone, Mr. Reagan holds his own. If Mr. Reagan does not run again, the Republicans stand to gain more than the Democrats from a woman vice-presidential choice.
It is by no means clear that a woman on the ticket would deliver a decisive margin to either party. But neither would it hurt. It would cost few male votes, since men and women pretty much agree on how a woman on the national ticket would affect their votes: Most voters of either sex say the vice-president's gender would make no difference. In a close race, however, a gender edge could make a difference, particularly in attracting independent and Democratic women's votes. A woman vice-presidential candidate could help galvanize women voters, much as advocates of a black presidential candidate argue that Jesse Jackson's candidacy could help turn out black voters.
The National Women's Political Caucus, a bipartisan group, thinks having a woman on the ticket would give women something to vote for. Of course, women already are voting in far greater numbers than men. In 1980, 49.3 million women voted in national elections, compared to 43.8 million men. In 1982, women voters outnumbered men 42.3 million to 38.0 million. Women already are the more politically active gender at the polls.
The National Organization for Women will likely endorse a Democratic presidential candidate the weekend of December 10, barring a Reagan decision not to run. NOW includes openness to a woman as vice-president as one of its four presidential criteria; the others are the candidates' stands on women's issues like abortion and the Equal Rights Amendment, the status of women on campaign staffs, and electability - the latter the most important. This is a propitious moment to consider a woman for the national ticket, either in practical political terms or in women's readiness for the job.