Rocky journey to being first lady

July 08, 2008|By SUAN REIMER

You can't choose whom your children will love, but in the hugely unlikely event that I am asked my opinion, I will tell my daughter "Don't marry a football coach or a politician. They're never home."

I remember the stories about Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs, whose wife used to make cassette recordings for him with family news and updates on the kids. He would pop the cassette into his dashboard player and listen during his pre-dawn drive to Redskin Park to begin his 18-hour workday.

When she began to fill the tapes with complaints about his never being home, he stopped listening.

That is the big drawback to having a husband who is often more devoted to his other "family" - his team or his constituents - than to the one waiting for him at home. And it is a compromise Michelle Obama and Cindy McCain have made.

Both have chosen to remain with their children in, respectively, Chicago and Arizona, while their husbands do battle in Washington. The men return home for a weekend here or a special occasion there, when they can.

McCain, married to a former Naval officer, told her children that Daddy was on "deployment in Washington," and I guess it makes sense for the wife of a public servant to think of it that way.

But the current political season reveals, yet again, the other side of marriage to a politician, one much more miserable than de facto single parenthood: the soul-withering experience of having your flesh picked from your bones by the media.

In the way we have of boiling human beings down to a handful of adjectives and then forming a caricature from those adjectives, Obama has become the angry black woman and McCain, a Stepford wife.

Political historians tell us that wives - even two-for-the-price-of-one Hillary Clinton in 1992 - do not win or lose elections for their husbands. But still we insist on pulling the wings off these women and watching them flutter helplessly.

Obama was described as an accomplished professional woman and attentive mother until she was described as angry and uppity. Do you need evidence? She wears sleeveless dresses.

McCain went from a woman so wounded by the public exposure of her health and her family that she withdrew from public life and pleaded with her husband not to run again for president. Now she is by his side, an adoring spouse ridiculed for her Barbie doll hair and her country club wardrobe.

Essayist Diane Roberts referred to McCain as "a frat boy's dream girl," a blond beer heiress. Obama was referred to on Fox television as "Obama's baby mama," and by the National Review as "Mrs. Grievance." And she draws thinly veiled Angela Davis references.

Both women have allowed themselves to appear on Barbara Walters' The View in what can only be described as image rehab. Obama talked about buying an outfit off the rack and jazzing it up with a pin and about how she hated pantyhose.

The woman graduated from Princeton and Harvard law school, for mercy's sake! I am sure she complains about pantyhose over wine with her girlfriends, but does she have to do it on national television to prove her everywoman chops to voters?

McCain is a pilot and CEO of a huge business and runs an international medical charity. She recovered from an addiction to painkillers and a stroke pretty much on her own. But bloggers say her hair reveals a privileged upbringing while Obama's hair recalls Jackie Kennedy and "the hope and optimism that the Kennedy era inspired."

Are you kidding me?

David Brooks, on a New York Times blog he shares with Gail Collins, said political spouses are bound by a joint delusion. "They are both so nutso beyond the bend as to believe that one of them should be leader of the free world."

That may be true of Obama, but McCain has been blackmailed into this as only a mother can be. One of her sons is a Marine and the other is at the U.S. Naval Academy.

She says her husband is the candidate who best understands the military and political complexities of the Iraq war. But what she is really saying is that he's the only one she trusts to get her boys home safely.

All in all, I'd tell my daughter that if she has a choice, she should marry the football coach. Nobody cares about the wife. Just the playoffs.

susan.reimer@baltsun.com

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Read recent columns by Susan Reimer at baltimoresun.com/reimer

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