Could the Real Michelle Obama Have Become First Lady
1 year ago
From Betty Ford to Obama, why fun First Ladies have a tough time
Talk about irony. #BettyFord was once perceived as such a political liability—being a divorced former dancer—that her marriage to future president Gerald Ford was timed to generate the least amount of publicity possible to avoid alienating voters during his first run for Congress. Yet by the time she passed away last week at the age of 93 she was widely recognized as one of the country’s most groundbreaking, influential, memorable and well-liked First Ladies. Which makes the fact that she would still be perceived as a political liability today, were she and her husband to hit the campaign trail, all the more disappointing.
Despite how much America has evolved on a variety of fronts (electing a black president being Exhibit A), our country still remains reluctant to elect an imperfect First Lady. When Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels declined to throw his hat into the presidential ring, citing a veto by his family’s “women’s caucus,” the harsh reality implied by the decision was transparent, despite the sunny language he used to convey it to the media. That harsh reality being that his family feared the scrutiny that would come with a presidential run was simply too much to bear, for all of them perhaps, but particularly his wife, Cheri.
Gov. Daniels is fond of saying of their non-traditional love story that “if you like happy endings, you’ll love our story.” Americans do like happy endings, and comebacks and second chances, particularly for men. But when it comes to the women running to occupy the role of First Lady of the United States, they want something else—namely as close to the feminine ideal of American womanhood as possible.
The feminine ideal that existed 100 years ago.
Any time a woman has deviated at all from the traditional First Lady prototype of attractive (but not sexy), smart (but not blatantly ambitious), articulate (but not opinionated) and most of all—a mother—they have faced a backlash. (Click here to see a list of the most controversial First Ladies.)
Think Hillary Clinton circa "HillaryCare," before a successful Senate term, kickass presidential campaign, and tenure as Secretary of State repositioned her as the widely admired woman praised by both liberals and conservatives today. But even in her case it took her husband’s impeachment—which made her appear vulnerable and relatable to those women who didn’t hold law degrees from Yale—to give her the freedom, some may say right, to be who she really is without having to apologize for it for the first time in her public life. She finally seemed like an ordinary, American wife, with the same problems as a lot of other wives out there, which suddenly made it okay for her to be extraordinary as First Lady turned Senate candidate.