If we learned one thing from Ann Romney during the Republican National Convention and Michelle Obama last night, it is that their husbands really have a thing for strange furniture. Mrs. Romney, seeking to humanize her husband, spoke fondly of their first desk as a door propped up by two sawhorses. In a similar vein, Mrs. Obama waxed eloquent about young President Obama’s most prized possession–a coffee table he found in a dumpster.
Both women were tasked with offering glowing panegyrics to their spouses, and both accomplished their feat. Michelle did a really excellent job last night, seeming relaxed and overwhelmingly positive–even when sharp issues were raised. At once political and personal, there did not seem to be anything harsh or mean-spirited about her presentation.
I heard a commentator afterward say that she is the most popular women in America…and after hearing her last night I’d have to say “advantage Obama” here in the First Lady speechifying.What was interesting about her address was that she seemed, at some level, to subsume herself in order to “seal the deal” with Americans about her husband. For a woman I’ve always thought of as very independent and a model of a empowered professional working woman, she seemed rather…domestic.
It is always interesting to think about the place of the First Lady in the American social construct. Though the days of the stay-at-home mom are receding in our culture, the presidential couple–indeed, all presidential couples–seem to have conspired in this pattern. To my knowledge, no presidential spouse in history has continued in her own career while her husband has served as president. This is certainly not to say that they’ve done nothing. Far from it. Many have been quite engaged with the important issues of their day and some have even been involved in issues of governance. But on the matter of a traditional job, everyone seems to adhere to the pleasant fiction of the “traditional American household.”
Can a First Lady work a separate, full-time job? Certainly, if she wants. Is it acceptable for her not to? Absolutely. Is forgoing a career an act of sacrifice for the country a presidential spouse must make? Perhaps. And, finally, will the election of Hillary or another qualified female candidate turn the whole discussion of presidential spouses on its head? Absolutely. Your thoughts?