The women behind presidential men: Who cares?

Mike Royko

April 24, 1992|By Mike Royko | Mike Royko,Tribune Media Services

If the presidential election were held today, and I had to choose among the political survivors, I'd vote for Jerry Brown.

Yes, I know that there are those who think he's an eccentric, a futurist, a cockeyed visionary. And other critics say he is nothing but a position-hopping political opportunist.

But he has one quality that is lacking in George Bush, Bill Clinton, Pat Buchanan and Ross Perot.

He is a bachelor.

It was about 16 years ago that it first occurred to me that what this country needed was a bachelor president.

I was in Kansas City at the Republican Convention. Ronald Reagan was trying to snatch the nomination away from then-President Gerald Ford.

There came a moment when both men and their wives were sitting at opposite ends of the convention arena. And their supporters were having a decibel duel.

One group was chanting, "Nancy, Nancy, Nancy," and the others were howling, "Betty, Betty, Betty."

So I began a lonesome chant: "Shut up, shut up, who cares, who cares?"

It was not that I meant any disrespect for Nancy or Betty, but I have never understood why the wives of candidates should be a consideration.

When undergoing surgery, I don't look up at the guy with the shiv and say: "Before you slice, tell me all about your wife." Nor do I ask my dentist, lawyer, or anyone else I hire, about their wives. So why should I have to decide on which candidate's wife I prefer in the White House?

That same year, Jimmy Carter was elected and his wife was big news because it was discovered that she had opinions. Oh, didn't that create a stir?

More recently, we've had Kitty Kelley's disclosures that Nancy was really the Well-Groomed but Wicked Witch of the West Wing.

And now, if you pick up a copy of U.S. News & World Report, you will see Hillary Clinton on the cover with the headlines that read: "Does She Help or Hurt?" And "An Exclusive Poll." And "Women's Issues in American Politics."

It's tough enough finding someone dumb enough to run for president, and smart enough to do the job if elected president, without having to make judgments about the women with whom they share a bed.

As it happens, I admire Barbara Bush. She obviously has intelligence, grace, poise and wit. A fine mother and devoted wife. And what she's been through all those years, married to such an Ivy League stiff.

But I also admire Hillary Clinton. A modern woman: wife, mother, powerhouse corporate lawyer, throbbing social conscience, and, if I may take the liberty, a real neat dish. And what she's been through all these years, married to an Arkansas rascal.

Since I like them both, why should I or any other voters have to choose between Barbara and Hillary?

Which brings me back to Jerry Brown. He has no wife, therefore his non-existent wife is not on the cover of national magazines. Her social and political views are not nit-picked on TV by the McGoofy Group. We will not be asked to ponder her potential influence on our future happiness and well-being. And we will not be exposed to any journalistic head-shrinking about whether Brown has a need for passive women, dominant women, or a woman with a hairy mole on her nose who flogs him with a house-slipper.

Since Brown has no wife, we aren't asked by pollsters if his wife should be content to stay home and make cookies to serve with tea, or if she should have her own Cabinet position.

Lacking a wife, Brown has no children, or none he admits to. That means he doesn't have any sons, as does Bush, who do goofy S&L deals.

Being a bachelor doesn't make Brown the perfect candidate. That title would go to a candidate who was not only a bachelor, but had been an orphan waif, left in a picnic basket on the steps of a police station, with a note on his diaper that read: "Life is too tough. Give this baby a good home and he will make a great president."

Imagine, a bachelor president with no relatives. Jimmy Carter without his kid brother, Billy the lush, who made wee-wee on airport runways. Ronald Reagan without the son who danced ballet and the daughter who wrote that momma was a beast and dad was a mope.

It used to be like that. Relatives of presidents were sort of stashed away, as relatives should be. President's wives quietly did their things, whether it was getting sloshed over canasta or being do-gooders.

That all changed with the Kennedy clan and Camelot. (Listen, you'd think it was Camelot, too, if you were hopping in the sack with Marilyn Monroe.) Then we had Lady Bird and Lynda Bird and all those other strange Johnson birds.

I have to say this for Richard Nixon. He kept his family out of the limelight. Or maybe they were embarrassed to be seen with him.

Ford, the most forgettable president of our time, gave us Betty, who inspired a dry-out tank for those who stagger through "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous."

Then came the Jimmy Carter Clan, who made some people wonder if "The Beverly Hillbillies" was a PBS documentary.

Now I'm reading that Ross Perot began his multibillion-dollar fortune with his wife's tidy bank account. What, a Texas gigolo?

Enough already. I don't care if Hillary makes cookies, or if Barbara has varicose veins.

Remember, it is still rumored that Thomas Jefferson, one of our Founding Parent Persons, slept with his slave mistress. Boy, what USA Today would have done with that choice morsel.

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