The Role of the Candidate's Wife, Then and Now

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

The role of the First Lady has become more complicated since Jacqueline Kennedy redecorated the White House on national television in 1961. The candidate’s wife is now front and center throughout the campaign. While they're expected to speak at national conventions and fundraisers, their role is still constrained. When Bill Clinton ran for president, he told voters that they’d be getting two for the price of one, Bill and Hillary. President Clinton fulfilled that promise, appointing his wife chair of the President's Task Force on National Health Reform, a role Republicans decried, and one that Hillary soon abandoned.

Michelle Obama also faced difficulties on the campaign train. In 2008, when she told a Milwaukee audience that, "For the first time in my adult life I am proud of my country because it feels like hope is finally making a comeback." Conservative commentators decried the future First Lady for her lack of national pride.

Ann Romney’s husband just secured the Republican nomination last week, but she’s already had her turn in the spotlight, after Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen claimed Mrs. Romney had “never worked a day in her life?” Ann struck back, but within the confines of her role. "My career choice was to be a mother. And I think all of us need to know that we need to respect choices that women make," she told Fox News. "Other women other choices, to have a career and raise family, which I think Hilary Rosen has actually done herself. I respect that. That's wonderful."

Ariel Levy often writes about sex and gender as a staff writer for The New Yorker. She's written profiles of Cindy McCain and Calista Gingrich, and she discusses the changing role of the candidate's wife.


Ariel Levy

Produced by:

Jillian Weinberger

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