I’ve been reading John Kerry’s recent statements about his wife, who he thinks is brilliant and sexy and fun. And regular readers of this blog know that I share Big John’s adoration of Teresa, so the fact that I love this won’t come as a real big surprise to them. But some of the snarkified stories comparing her to Laura, Hillary and other first ladies got me thinking about what we really want from first ladies and what we say we want, and the difference between those two.
At times people do want National Mom, somebody to soothe our fevered foreheads and tell us everything’s going to be fine. Trouble is, we all had different kinds of moms. Mine stayed home and made me sandwiches and Halloween costumes and my prom dress, and was always there when I was sick and took care of my brother and sister and dad and never complained about it, not even once. Her mom split town at the age of 19, kicked ass and took names in the big city; she worked every day and wasn’t easy to live with but there’s nobody else you’d want on your side in a fight. Which mom do we want? And when the first ladies through the years fail one segment of the population or another in the mom category, shouldn’t we stop faulting them and start examining our way of classifying them?
They also say they want a role model for women. That’s all well and good; as somebody who hopes to have a daughter one day I want role models for women, too. But why does all the pressure to be a role model for women fall on the female half of the political power couple? People gave Betty Ford crap after an interview for 60 minutes in which she appeared to approve of pre-marital sex. You’re a leader of our nation’s women, some of the more sanctimonious letters went. Well, yeah, but she’s not THE leader, and her husband’s a leader of the nation’s women, too, since women vote and a lot of them voted for him. Just because she has a uterus and curly hair, she bears the sole burden of acting like a decent person while her husband can rape and pillage the country regardless of what message that sends to Our Daughters?
I think a large part of the problem is that First Ladies have no defined jobs. They’re not constitutional officers; they don’t have legal obligations, so even the cursory coverage candidates’ policy positions get is more substantive than discussion about their wives. The press feels there’s nothing to discuss about them BUT personality. And so we get this catty, clique-like definition of First Ladies according to high school stratigraphy, and mistake slapping a label on somebody for understanding them. Laura = Betty Crocker, Teresa Kerry = Cruella de Ville.
Which lousy standard for discussion diminshes both of the candidates, their wives and all voters.