Saturday, June 21, 2008

Well-behaved wives rob voters of authenticity

(Originally published 6/21/08)

The national media must be sick of writing about John McCain and Barack Obama, because this week, it was all about the ladies.

Michelle Obama appeared on The View Thursday to talk, among other things, about panty hose, whether Barack still takes out the trash (he doesn’t) and what she meant by that infamous proud-of-my-country remark.

Politicos nodded in knowing approval at the “remodeling” of Michelle Obama, like she’s some sort of rental house that needs to be updated.

Meanwhile, Cindy McCain traveled to Vietnam as part of her work with Operation Smile, a non-profit medical charity for needy children in developing nations. She clarified her remarks about Michelle’s proud-of-my-country statement, still insisting she wasn’t trying to start a catfight.

It took a sound bite from ubiquitous political talking head Larry Sabato to shock me into understanding how much this bothers me – and why.

Asked about the move to “remodel” Michelle, Sabato said, “If you’re a candidate for first lady, probably the best thing you can be is innocuous.”

First of all, since First Ladies are not elected, there is no such thing as a “candidate for first lady.”

Secondly, “the best thing you can be is innocuous?”

Excuse me?

Is this 2008, or 1908?

If Hillary had won, would Sabato advise Bill Clinton to be innocuous?

“The idea is to let (the candidate’s wife) get known in a softer form,” Sabato said.

A “softer form?”

Is this guy married?

More Sabato: “The less (Michelle Obama) says and does, the better it will be. The less she is on the front pages, the less she is profiled, the better it will be for the Obama campaign.”


Michelle Obama is a well-educated, highly accomplished businesswoman, a wife and working mother who is passionate and eloquent about the things she believes in.

So is Cindy McCain.

One of these women will wield tremendous influence in the White House while her husband leads the free world.

And that is nothing new. Remember Abigail Adams’ letters to her husband, the future president, wherein she beseeched him to “remember the ladies” when writing this country’s laws?

So why should Mrs. Obama and Mrs. McCain be innocuous?

Why should Americans see a “softer form” of them? (And who decided they needed to be “softened,” anyway?)

Why would voters be better served by hearing from them less, and not more?

I know that campaigns try to make candidates’ wives more Jackie, less Hillary. But it wasn’t until I heard Sabato’s comments that I realized what that really means: They’re trying to make the wives more palatable, as it were – as if the default versions are somehow defective, unacceptable or crude.

That is so incredibly offensive to me – as a woman, yes, but also as a mother, as a wife, as a voter and as an American.

Their husbands are hammering out the details of joint appearances. Michelle and Cindy should be doing the same.

Far from standing dutifully quiet with their pearls in the corners, they should unite and stand together in their passion for this country and their spouses.

Instead of attacking each other, they should work together to get Americans involved with their government.

Think about the level of interest their joint appearances would generate.

I wonder what Larry Sabato would say.

But then again, perhaps the less he says and does, the better it will be.

On the blog this weekend, Abigail Adams’ most famous letter, and my take on State Sen. Ted Little’s recent column.

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