Candidates' wives "scootch in" closer

Maria Shriver hosts first-ever forum for would-be first ladies.

Published October 24, 2007 6:14PM (EDT)

Yes, it was reportedly the first-ever official forum for spouses of presidential candidates, and no, Bill Clinton was not there. I was not able to watch Tuesday night's event, hosted by California First Lady-ator Maria Shriver, but from the coverage I've read, it seems that it consisted mainly of a game of political up-wifeship in which the spouses in attendance competed to prove which one of them had the least actual involvement in her husband's campaign. If so, then to me the event -- or at least, and perhaps more to the point, the coverage thereof -- embodies the very paradox we set up for female political spouses: "We are going to pay a lot of attention to you. Please don't do anything interesting." Or something like that. (Perhaps we're paying even more attention to the spice this year, as some have suggested, because the whole Clinton business ups the ante. Or simply because of the "unusually compressed, early presidential race." As Phil Trounstine, head of the Survey and Policy Research Institute at San Jose State University, told, "Campaigns have to be in so many places in one time that they are relying more heavily on surrogates -- and the No. 1 surrogate is the candidate's spouse.")

I'm not saying these wives shouldn't be directly involved in their husbands' campaigns, or presidencies; I don't have a particular criticism of the individuals involved. And yes, I know I just spent 232 words taking the bait and blabbing about the candidates' spouses, instead of comparing their respective proposals for the creation of insurance pooling mechanisms. But there is a spouse effect, like it or not, and I find all these ever-more-mixed messages fascinating. Did you watch the event? How did the coverage of it compare with what was actually discussed? Do you think such a forum has -- or should have -- any bearing on the campaign? (And would you watch next time if you knew Bill would be there?)

By Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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