Politically skin-deep

Editorial Notebook

January 31, 2004|By Ann LoLordo

WHEN NEW YORK society diva, columnist and talk-show host Tina Brown pronounces the slate of potential first ladies "the worthy women of politics," well, we've come a long way, haven't we? And here we thought Judy, Teresa, Elizabeth and Gert (can't forget Hadassah and Kathy) were getting a media once-over undeserved and uncool, even in this post-feminist haze of Manolo Blahnik envy. But if the anointed Queen of Buzz can gush, "It's a blast to see women who are handsome rather than hot," ladies, cancel those face peels, dump the Lancome and stock up on Kiehl's Ultra Facial Moisturizer and Silk Groom hair cream. Natural's the way to go. Why, maybe velvet hairbands will make a comeback.

Call us politically clueless, but the scrutiny of the potential first ladies on the campaign trail (or lack thereof) reached such hyperbolic pretensions as to be ridiculously cliched. When nearly 72 percent of mothers of children under age 18 work, the idea that Dr. Judith Steinberg Dean had something better to do than campaign with her husband is what, un-American, unbelievable, weird? No Stepford Wife here. What a relief for those of us who have enough trouble getting out of the house with Junior in the morning without worrying about our quotient of blush, mascara and designer shoes.

Most of the other Democratic candidates' wives are carrying out the traditional role of campaign wife, giving speeches, attending pancake breakfasts, extolling the virtues of their spouses, consulting on policy. Some are more traditional in the context of their political, historical and social roles than others. But even at that, they reflect a welcome change from the past. As "the general's wife," Gertrude Clark felt as comfortable with the wives of enlisted men as those of officers. Raised in Africa, speaker of five languages, Teresa Heinz Kerry has a Lost in Translation originality in what she says and how she says it. One of America's leading philanthropists, she isn't shy about her Botox treatments.

Elizabeth Edwards gave up her law practice after her oldest son died in a car crash, had two more children (the youngest when she was 50) and offered to one voter that she colors her hair so as not to be mistaken for her youthful-looking husband's mom. Hadassah Freilich Tucker Lieberman, a consultant, is said to prefer hosting Sabbath dinners over cocktail parties. And Kathy Jordan Sharpton was a back-up singer for soulman James Brown. Need we say more?

Most of the focus, however, has been on Dr. Steinberg because she opted out of the campaign drill. Already people are wondering just what Dr. Steinberg would wear to a state dinner. How about something that suits her? Heck, according to the Fandex Family Field Guide: First Ladies, Elizabeth Monroe didn't like entertaining and was known to skip out on state dinners.

Dr. Steinberg should be commended for doing her own thing (we date ourselves). Here's to the good doctor for getting through her prime-time debut without having to roll up the sleeves of her brick-red twin sweater set to defend her choice to stay home, or at least in Burlington, Vt. The daughter of two doctors, Dr. Steinberg has committed herself to her son and her patients and her husband's political aspirations in that order. She has that right, especially this early in the presidential horse race. And by the way, shame on the other Dr. Dean for flooding the campaign trail in New Hampshire with tapes of the interview.

But then again, he's running for president and having a tough time of it lately. Howard Dean may not reach 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., but if voters give him the key and Judy Dean decides to maintain a medical practice, won't it be grand to be able to say, "Hey, kid, guess what? You can be a doctor and the president's wife too."

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