Why The American First Lady Is Forced To Represent Tradition, Not Progression

Monday, November 1, 2004


Written by Kyle Lambert

The Republican and Democrat parties in the United States have battled on a number of fronts during the current election campaign, both seeking to gain public favour in any way possible. Look no further than the “Swift Boat Veterans For Truth” or “Moveon.org” for examples of what each party is willing to do in order to get a leg up on the competition.

One very public contest in the election has been between Kerry and Bush. I’m not talking about John and George Dubya, rather I’m referring to Teresa Heinz and Laura. If one listens to media sources across the U.S., it appears that Mrs. Bush is the overwhelming preference of the two among American voters. Her “approval rating” has been above 70% throughout the election campaign, never mind the foolishness of rating a leader’s spouse in the first place.

On the other hand, Teresa Heinz Kerry, ketchup mogul and wife of candidate John Kerry, has received little friendly press on this campaign. Despite her well-educated background and charity efforts, Teresa Heinz Kerry has been portrayed as being too opinionated and, heaven forbid, free spirited to be liked by the American people. Since when is having an opinion a bad thing in politics? The Bush campaign has been praised for its firm standing on a limited number of issues, despite the inability of most Republicans to provide meaningful comments in regard to health care, education or social security.

The perception of the American first lady is one which, in the opinion on one male, seems to take women back to a role which was seen as most suitable in the 1950’s. Laura Bush may be more educated than June Cleaver, but her Masters of Library Science certainly doesn’t give the impression that she’ll be over-advising her husband on matters of state. Now, I’m not dismissing any Masters degree, but it seems that the only education acceptable for the spouses of politicians in the United States is one which somehow involves teaching children, something that doesn’t stray too far from the traditional parenting role of women.

Teresa Heinz Kerry is well-educated and speaks a number of languages, yet she doesn’t receive much credit for her abilities because she’s “too outspoken”. It is rather unfortunate that for a country that champions equality, educated and opinionated women are viewed with such disdain. Sure, there are some influential females in American politics. Hilary Clinton deserves a lot of credit, but she too has been forced to fit the “supportive wife” mould. Despite husband Bill’s philandering, Hilary kept of the obvious façade that she supported her husband because it was best for her own political career. I’m not criticizing her, because I think she made a smart political decision. I am criticizing the environment in which such a decision must be made.

Efforts in America to return to a more so-called traditional way of life are often blamed on the Christian right. While that movement certainly has a large amount of influence, never more so than in the Bush government, they are not the only ones to blame. The role of the first lady in the U.S. hasn’t changed much over time, but the larger tendency to promote bold concepts such as the infamous “family values” is one which has developed at a more rapid pace in the last decade or two.

While one column cannot do this topic proper justice, I would argue that a sort of post-Cold War hangover is at least partially to blame. Until 1989, there was one large threat which occupied the conscience of white-bread middle class America, the Soviet Union. Sure, there were other very pressing issues, but the ghettoization of inner cities didn’t really bother most middle class Americans because the suburbs were designed to seem distant from the troubles of the metropolis. It was a single threat, those damned Russians and their communism, which occupied the thoughts of most Americans. Luckily for them, that threat was relatively distant and was always evident.

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the threats faced by the largest (though declining) American demographic are more opaque. No one really knows how to handle terrorism or school shootings. While liberal philosophies such as maintaining human rights became popularized in the 1990’s, Americans were left without an overall cause of their struggles. They could no longer blame the Russians. Thus, a new issue had to be found.

While the religious right certainly kick-started the movement, more and more people and politicians started raving about the need for more traditional values. Why these values? Because they represented a time in which the cause of problems was supposedly obvious and the solution could be left up to the President and the military. Issues such as school shootings are much harder to handle; don’t forget how the Columbine massacre broke the picket fence door down from middle class America’s safe ground.

So what I’m trying to say, in a nutshell at least, is that Laura Bush is popular because she represents a time in which many Americans didn’t have to worry or even think about the world outside of their own. Teresa Heinz Kerry represents a more modern woman, something which developed at the same time as all of the more general threats now faced by Americans. It is unfortunate for her that more people cannot respect her abilities, as opposed to categorizing her so negatively.

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