Wednesday, July 2, 2008

First Spouses: Why the Compulsion to Attack, Critique?

Maybe it's just me, but I, a political news nut, am sick to death of stories that pit Michelle Obama against Cindy McCain, compare the women and even goad them and their husband's presidential campaigns into critiquing one another. Harshly.

Almost exactly a year ago, the New York Times ran a piece comparing the spouses of the slate of Republican and Democratic candidates, much of it focused on the physical appearance and style of the wives. In that same article -- entitled, I kid you not, "Will Her Face Determine His Fortune" and commented on former Senator Fred Thompson's wife's "bleached blond hair" and "permanent tan" -- Republican pollster Frank Luntz told the Times: "The spouse of the candidate matters in less than 1 out of 100 votes. It's not relevant. It will have no impact whatsoever."

A recent ABC News poll which directly compared Michelle Obama and Cindy McCain came to the same conclusion, saying, and I quote, "The popularity of presidential candidates' spouses does not drive vote preferences." After going on an on about who likes who better, and which woman has the higher negative ratings, the folks who conducted ABC's poll added, "Again, views of the candidates' spouses do not significantly influence vote choices."

Last October, five of the wives of presidential candidates met in California to discuss what their lives were like on the campaign trail. The Associated Press reported of the group of Democrats and Republicans:

"Political differences scarcely were mentioned during the hourlong discussion as they described how they keep up a grueling schedule of campaign appearances while trying to preserve time with their children and protect their husbands from overzealous handlers.

They held hands and exchanged hugs as the panel concluded.

All said they had little input on policy matters. And they largely rejected the notion made famous by Bill Clinton in the 1992 campaign when he described his partnership with his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, as 'Buy one, get one free.'"

Today, that seems like the good old days. Now Michelle Obama is called a "baby mama" by a TV network, her playful fist-bumps with her husband dissected for evidence of a terrorist connection. Cindy McCain is pilloried for whether she actually has favorite recipes or just plagiarizes them from the internet. As if any of this matters, in the end, on for whom you'll cast your vote for president.

My Mommy Track'd column this week satirizes the media phenomenon that is the obsession with categorizing any teensy difference between Obama and McCain as a cat fight between potential first ladies. It's madness, I tell you, madness.

Image credit: Reuters via the Daylife web site.

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