Sunday's New York Times contains an article about the 2008 race that poses a different question than most other commentary thus far. It's not asking if America's ready for a woman president, or a Mormon, or an African-American. It's asking whether America's ready for a trophy wife.
The wife in question is Jeri Kehn Thompson, 40, who's married to Fred Thompson, the 64-year-old former "Law and Order" actor and Republican senator from Tennessee who's expected to announce a bid for the presidency. The Times describes her as having "youthfulness, [a] permanent tan and bleached blonde hair" and asks whether "so-called values voters" -- i.e., conservative Republicans -- would "accept this union."
This probably won't come as surprising to Kehn Thompson, whose age and appearance have earned her Internet abuse and a comment by Joe Scarborough asking if she "works the pole," during a segment about striptease workouts. But that doesn't mean it's excusable. (And as the Times put it, "It is hard to imagine a man, however handsome, suffering similar insult.")
Here are my questions: Why should the couple's age difference be blamed on the woman? (Fred was presumably a big part of that decision, too.) What does the appearance of a first lady have to do with her husband's bid for the presidency (or vice versa)? And, as always, why should a woman need to defend herself against accusations that she's a "bimbo" just because she's attractive? Even the Times plays into this, pointing out that Kehn Thompson is a former Senate aide and a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee -- as if her blondeness needs to be offset by professional accomplishment. And, continues the Times, "she is not a homewrecker." Thanks. What, exactly, does that have to do with her husband's run for president? Even if their marriage had been preceded by an extramarital affair, why should Mrs. Thompson be the one on the defensive? Wouldn't that reflect just as poorly -- if not more so -- on her husband?
What's more, it seems as if people's obsession with Kehn Thompson has less to do with her objective age or attractiveness than the fact that she's with an older man. After all, Michelle Obama is a vibrant 43 -- not too far past Kehn Thompson, and an attractive person to boot. And yet no one's asking whether Michelle's too hot for the White House (perhaps those people are too busy asking whether she's too black for the White House). Yes, a 24-year age difference does turn heads, and yes, any candidate with a "trophy" spouse is going to attract attention. But why must the attention always focus on the woman?
The Times' headline was "Will Her Face Determine His Fortune." Let's hope that if push comes to shove, it's actually his capabilities, not his wife's appearance, that determine whether Thompson's fit for office.