Bored Housewives of Pennsylvania Avenue
In his book God Knows, Joseph Heller perfectly described the manipulative, power hungry bored first lady. Bathsheba, in his telling, is a constant meddler, jockeying for power and, desperate to have her son, Solomon, made David's successor to the throne. She spends her free time in creative activities like inventing pantaloons because she is way too narcissistic to play second fiddle even to the king.
We should be so lucky.
The last two Democrat First Ladies cost us a bundle in their effort to be co-Presidents. Hillary ("two for the price of one"), with hair styles changing weekly, mucked about for ages with a large, costly cadre of her own staff in the West Wing and a wonkish task force jerry rigging what they imagined would be a more perfect health system, only to learn we hated it and it had no chance at passage.
Michelle Obama has followed suit telling us what to eat, that community service work is good and income generating occupations bad, and how to exercise. At the same time she spends millions of our tax dollars touring the world with her family and friends wearing costumes, generally of the bizarre sort beloved by the not very bright trendy fashionistas who write Style Section copy, and doing not one visible thing that isn't chosen and fashioned for her own benefit.
Before the nomination process goes any further, I want pledges from every candidate and his or her spouse revealing an understanding of the limited scope of official consort. Make them all pinky promise that the First Lady (or Man) will confine her or his activities to solitary, budget friendly hobbies like knitting, fly fishing , golfing, drinking, or hiking the White House grounds.
Denis Thatcher to my way of thinking is the perfect sort of First Spouse. He was invariably polite and conservatively dressed at functions where his presence was called for by protocol. He supported his wife, called her "The Boss" and otherwise said nothing much in public, understanding full well that it was his wife who held the position and there is no co-Prime Minister. By law or tradition.
Except for "Just say no" to drugs, I cannot recall a single public statement of Nancy Reagan's, though she was always appropriately dressed, and neither she nor her husband were known for oafish missteps like bowing to foreign leaders or hugging Queen Elizabeth. Betty Ford rather confined herself to traditional roles until her addiction and breast cancer provided her with an opportunity to serve as an inspiration to the many battling the same problems. She didn't just pick these "causes" out of a trend cause hat because she thought it would promote herself or her husband.
Both the Bush ladies largely confined their public activities to encouraging (without grandiose legislative initiatives) our better natures, most especially helping every American to become literate.
Isn't it enough that whoever holds the office of President holds a very difficult position, which requires a supportive spouse? Isn't it enough that the duties of officialdom and respect for the office are rather demanding tasks? It's not easy to prepare for all these occasions-- and I'm not just talking about attention to menus and appearance -- clothing and hair and all. A good First Spouse will take the time to adequately prepare for these occasions: Learn everyone's name and interests, pay attention to the rules of protocol, be unfailingly polite, and put up with heaven only knows how much insipid small talk. And, for example, when planning a State Dinner for the South Koreans, don't serve Japanese food, never hug the Queen of England, wear hose on state visits and don't cross your legs when sitting in public -- especially when wearing short skirts and you are on the platform. Don't deboard Air Force one in tight shorts and a baseball cap, especially when it is obvious there will be press at the site.
Michelle Obama whined early in her husband's term of office that the post of First Lady is an unpaid position. It is so because it is intended to be a position with only the power of setting good examples for comportment, civility and charity. Hard things to do, but no one pays you for that. It's called "class" and we expect that at the top.
A friend blames the change -- the First Spouses' demand for substantial independent staff and federal funding for their political causes -- on Eleanor Roosevelt, suggesting that ever after too many First Spouses -- seemingly all of the Democratic persuasion, beginning with Hillary -- have determined to use their position for self-aggrandizement and political ends. You can almost see the courtiers rushing during inaugural events to catch their ear on what their "special projects" will be and the Walter Mitty-like look in the spouse's eyes as she imagines she too will be a major historical figure. It's like celebrities and their political causes -- redolent of a shallow commitment and even more shallow understanding of the issues involved.
The First Spouse "causes" in Democrat administrations are as credible indications of the spouses' true interests as their love of the family pets. The Clintons couldn't wait to hand over Socks to Betty Currie, Buddy, Bill's dog, had his post-White House life cut short by careless handling, and as far as I can tell, the Obama's darling dog Bo gets attention only when the President's polls sink. We can start a pool to determine which lucky staffer will inherit him when this gig is up.
In the case of Michelle Obama, the overreach is particularly ridiculous, because it is so hypocritical. Telling others to forego well-paying jobs and work on civic projects while she cannot spend our money fast enough on foreign trips for herself. She has to my knowledge never once held a position for which she was not well-compensated . At the moment -- at who knows whose cost -- exercise coaches are reportedly flown in regularly from Chicago for her, she enjoys the most lavish meals, and (presumably using the Obamas' vast fortune) splurges on very expensive baubles and gowns and even extravagantly priced tennis shoes.
The capper was this week when Paula Deen and Marian Burros revealed the extent to which the woman who hawks White House grown kale and yams and who has demanded schools and restaurants change their menus, overriding parental and kids' preferences for what she demands -- healthier nourishment-- actually stuffs her own self with unhealthy food . Often.
I am definitely in favor of every candidate's spouse foreswearing championing a cause while his or her spouse is President or Vice President and agreeing to having no more than a minimal staff, travel and expense allowance. I want them to emulate Denis Thatcher and just leave all that stuff for "The Boss" we elected and enjoy for the brief time they are there the many perks of life in the White House.