Time to target Teresa?


Michelle Goldberg
October 22, 2004 11:06PM (UTC)

Speaking on CNN recently, veteran Texas political observer Molly Ivins predicted that in the final days of the campaign, Karl Rove would launch a whispering campaign to slander Kerry and his family. With the Swift Boat smear played out, though, Bush's backers need a new target -- and they have one in the audacious Teresa Heinz Kerry. Though she's loved by plenty of Democrats, Republicans are eagerly trying to turn her into a caricature of blowsy limousine-liberal depravity.

Today's Drudge Report doesn't call Teresa a drunk. It just strongly implies it. All day the site has featured two pictures of the first lady at an outdoor campaign event. In one she hoists a bottle of beer while holding a cup in the other hand, while in the second she carries three bottles. The headline: First Lady of Fun!

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The item is linked to a Washington Times story that asks, "Is mainstream America ready for Teresa Heinz Kerry, a woman who radio host Don Imus wonders might be 'too crazy to be first lady'?" (For balance, writer Stephanie Mansfield offers approving quotes from Sheila Weidenfeld, former press secretary to well-known teetotaler Betty Ford).

It's all perfectly crafted to whip up the kind of right-wing populist fury that Tom Frank wrote about so well in his book "What the Matter with Kansas." Conservatives thrive on the fiction that smug jet-setting lefties, not craven crony capitalists, are the ones who are shitting all over average Americans. Thus, for them, the foreign-born ketchup heiress is an even more potent hate object than Hillary Clinton.

Mansfield opens her story about the potential first lady with this fevered litany: "Federally funded Botox clinics. Diamond pickle pins. Fish stew for state dinners, followed by green tea and Portuguese pound cake. Pre-nups and private Gulfstream jets. Hermes bags, aromatherapy, homeopathic remedies and $4,000 Chanel suits. No more twin sets. No more twins. Blowsy hair, brassy mouth and bossy boots."

The absurdity is obvious enough. Federally funded Botox clinics? Since when did news reporters -- even Moonie-funded ones -- get to use this kind of poetic license? Ridiculous at is, though, this kind of thing works. That's why Hillary had to abase herself with cookie baking. It's why millions of apparently sentient Americans believe that pampered prep-schooler George Bush is just a regular down-home guy. And it's why we can expect the attacks on Teresa to get increasingly vicious the closer her husband gets to the presidency.


Michelle Goldberg

Michelle Goldberg is a frequent contributor to Salon and the author of "Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism" (WW Norton).

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