Political wags are already suggesting that the best presidential debate of the campaign would pit Tipper Gore against Hillary Clinton. Tipper bakes cookies, according to current stereotyping, and Hillary does not. Tipper is the ultimate homemaker, Hillary the high-paid lawyer who spends her odd hours on big corporate boards. Tipper the prudish pecksniff, Hillary the liberated feminist.
Both of these political wives are as immersed in the issues, as hopped up with intellectual firepower, as their husbands. One cartoon that appeared yesterday had Hillary telling Tipper: "This will be good for the boys for now, but in '96 Bill will make a dandy little First Man." It is an idea Vanity Fair first broached by suggesting that Hillary would make a better president than her ++ husband.
Back in the real world, these two women do more than embellish a photo opportunity for the Democratic ticket. They are baby boomers, as is Marilyn Quayle, another lawyer, and as such represent a "new generation" of political wives. Though they are very distinct personalities, they share long-held interests in the welfare of children and were quick to visit a children's hospital right after the Clinton-Gore ticket was announced.
Tipper became famous long before Hillary when, in 1985, she launched a campaign against the dissemination to children of popular music that promoted sex, violence and drugs. The music industry denounced her as a would-be censor, but as a result of her efforts perhaps three-quarters of the X-rated recordings now issued are labeled as such.
Ms. Gore has never retreated from an issue as fresh as the controversy over Sister Souljah and the record "Cop Killer." But after it reputedly hurt Senator Gore's bid for the presidency in 1988, she lowered her profile. As an attorney, Ms. Clinton has been an advocate for legal reforms to protect children from abuse and deprivation. So these two women share an interest in kids -- their own and others. And, as such, they will seek to thwart the GOP grab for a monopoly on "family values."
The Hillary-Tipper combination contrasts interestingly with the motherly-daughterly imagery projected by First Lady Barbara Bush and Second Lady Marilyn Quayle. Mrs. Bush, though very political, is a kind of a national grandmother whose lack of pretension and glitz was welcomed after eight years of Nancy Reagan. Ms. Quayle has had to suffer the mockery and ridicule flung at Vice President Dan Quayle these last four years, and has done so with controlled anger and dignity.
In an era when the role of women is changing so dramatically, it is hardly surprising that the campaign spotlight will be on Hillary and Tipper, Barbara and Marilyn.