Saturday, June 14, 2008

You Can't Have It Both Ways

Presidential Candidate Obama was "incensed" this week. A little earlier, he had angrily told a TV audience, "when they go after me, I can handle it; but my wife is off limits." There are some moments when I might sympathize with him, but not this time.

The old saying is, "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen." Obama has done what many other candidates have done -- recruited family members as part of the campaign. There is a line that needs to be drawn. Traditionally, the candidate had the adoring wife and children around him. The wife, if the candidate was elected, adopted some politically neutral causes like hunger or literacy.

I don't know if it started with the Clinton campaign -- I'm sure it didn't -- but Hillary made it an issue. She was vocal and extremely opinionated, and assumed the the office of First Lady was more than ceremonial. As a result, she was sometimes berated or criticized. And for some reason, Bill thought that wasn't fair.

Nobody ever criticized Mamie Eisenhower. In spite of the bitter dislike that many had for Richard Nixon, Pat Nixon was left alone. Even Laura Bush is still respected. She doesn't suffer from the angry political rhetoric that Michelle Obama is already seeing. Why? Because Laura Bush has not been used by her husband as a political tool.

Look at what Obama was saying this week, in effect: "I'm going to use my wife for political mileage. She will speak out on issues that I'm most passionate about. She will speak against those who oppose us, and challenge the Republican policies that are in place. She will have a carte blanche to say whatever she wants, but if anyone says anything against her, that is unfair, and they will have to deal with my righteous indignation."

Sorry, Mr. Obama. It doesn't work that way. There is no political "king's X." You have the choice of letting her be your adoring wife, or putting her on the front lines, in the trenches. If you do the latter, expect people to snipe at her.

And Obama is not the only one to do this. He's just the latest. But the whole issue is a silly political game that many candidates are playing. Remember Martha Mitchell, the loudmouth wife of the Watergate era? It can happen to anyone, at any time.

I'm not telling Michelle Obama that she needs to stay home, making tea and cookies. She may have some good ideas, and she may want to proclaim them. All I'm saying is, if she wants to climb up on the public podium, don't expect to be treated like a happy homemaker.

She may be our next first lady, and as such, should be respected. But if she's going to talk a lot, she should expect her words to be analyzed. She seems to be erudite and professional, and I recommend that she express her views boldly and openly. We might learn something, whether we agree with her or not.

But please don't feign wide-eyed surprise when someone responds.

No comments: