Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The First Gentleman

- by J.M.

"Outspoken, strong-willed, funny, gutsy and sometimes sarcastic."

These were the words used by the New York Times today to describe Michelle Obama. It's a flattering description, implying someone genuine and multi-dimensional. In the same article, the New York Times describes Ms. Obama as "forthright, comfortable in the trenches, and often more blunt than Mr. Obama . . . [providing] the campaign a steelier edge while allowing Mr. Obama to stay largely above it all." Ms. Obama is indeed considered by most to be an asset to her husband's campaign.

The media's coverage of Ms. Obama and the Obama campaign stands in stark contrast to the media's assessment of former President Bill Clinton during this primary season.

Pres. Clinton, like Ms. Obama, has actively supported his spouse's campaign. He has defended his wife against attacks from the Obama campaign accusing her of being a political insider, lacking the creativity necessary to bring about change. He has vigorously campaigned on his wife's behalf, emphasizing her experience, and, in one case, infamously calling Sen. Obama's narrative that he had accurately assessed the Iraq a "fairy tale." Like Michelle Obama, Pres. Clinton has been spirited, outspoken, and blunt.

So why has Pres. Clinton been criticized for his actions, while Ms. Obama has been praised?

Many felt his behavior was unbecoming as an elder statesman. Others feared his behavior indicated that he will become a "co-president" if his wife is elected to the White House. Questions were raised concerning Hillary Clinton's ability to control her husband. Last week, a chastised Pres. Clinton vowed to reign in his enthusiasm, stating, "I think the mistake that I made is to think that I was a spouse like any other spouse who could defend his candidate."

Whether or not the former President's behavior was appropriate or not, I believe we should grant the Clintons the benefit of the doubt. It is natural for spouses to enthusiastically support one another. The Clintons' situation - in which the potential First Spouse is himself a former President - is unprecedented, and the "rules" here are largely unwritten.

Moreover, the expectation that Sen. Clinton should be able to somehow "control" her husband is ridiculous and unwarranted, and exposes an insidious double-standard. No one worries whether Sen. Obama can control his wife, and if anyone dared to suggest such a fear aloud, he would instantly be labeled sexist. Yet the media freely wonders what Sen. Clinton's ability (or alleged lack thereof) to reign in her husband implies about her ability to control the government.

All this is not to say that there isn't something troubling about the continuation of a political dynasty: if Sen. Clinton is ultimately elected President, it will mean that after her first term there will have been either a Bush or a Clinton in office for nearly a quarter-century. That's a legitimate concern - Sen. Clinton's ability to control her husband is not.

1 comment:

Schna said...

Unrelated comment -

This is unrelated to the post, but an interesting point that a friend made that I would be curious to hear your response about. Not sure what I think yet...

The point: No matter who is elected, s/he is inheriting a seriously f*&ked up situation. Given that, is there any chance that whoever is elected in 2008 will possibly be re-elected in 2012? Naturally, the incumbant will get the nomination. If a Democrat is elected, serves 4 years, and runs for re-election, isn't there a great risk of having another shift to an extreme conservative (or worse, another neo-con) in 2012? Would it be better if McCain were elected for the next 4 years? No one can deny that, no matter how good or bad this would be, it would be a SIGNIFICANT improvement over the current regime.

Anyway, I thought it was an interesting point. not sure I agree, but it does have some merit.
Any thoughts?