The Proper Role of a First Spouse?

This story here caught my attention today: nNews/idUSN1847324020080618

The particular part that raised my eyebrows was this statement from Michelle Obama:

"That's what I like about Laura Bush, her whole rational approach to these issues. I am taking some cues. There's a reason why people like her, because she doesn't sort of fuel the fire."

So the first question is: do people actually like Laura Bush? I've never had either a positive or negative opinion of her because she's been remarkably passive and invisible for a First Spouse. (The only real feeling I have for her is being sorry she's stuck being married to Dubya and that her girls occasionally seem to use Paris Hilton as a role model...)

The second question is: is this the role that Michelle Obama plans to take as First Spouse?  To "not fuel the fire"?  Somehow I can't really see her in the role of passive compliant wife. It certainly doesn't match what we've seen of her personality so far.  And I personally would prefer for the First Spouse to take an active role and use that bully pulpit to get some good work done.

It's got me wondering why Michelle said this. Was it just another careless remark like the "proud of my country" one she's been trying to make people forget about? Sending Laura Bush a "thank you" note was gracious, but talking about it to the press was not -- especially talking about it before Laura Bush received it.  It would have been much more gracious (and smarter) to let Laura Bush break it to the press, or have a surrogate mention, or (as the incomparable Judith Martin would say) not to mention that you sent it all, since it's supposed to be a private matter between you and Laura. And then Michelle talks about how good a First Spouse Laura Bush is because of how little she does?  Sounds like a very ungracious backhanded compliment at best.

Barack -- if you want the media to "lay off" your wife, it might be best to encourage her not to talk to them. If she speaks out, she's fair game.

So what do you guys think?  Do you like Laura Bush, and if so, is it because of her low profile? Do you think that's the proper role for a First Spouse? If so, do you think that's the role Michelle Obama intends to take? Should she be "taking cues" from Laura Bush?

My preference would be that she took her cues from the last Democratic First Spouse.

That would be Hillary Clinton.

Tags: Bill Clinton, first lady, Hillary Clinton, Laura Bush, Michelle Obama, The View (all tags)



Concerned as usual.

Taking words out of context to suit your agenda is nothing out of the ordinary.

by spacemanspiff 2008-06-18 02:26PM | 0 recs
Re: Concerned as usual.

513 days without space having single comment that contributes to any diary..

by aliveandkickin 2008-06-18 02:29PM | 0 recs
Re: Concerned as usual.

Stalking is against the rules. I'm flattered you would take the time to follow me around though.

by spacemanspiff 2008-06-18 02:32PM | 0 recs
Re: Concerned as usual.


by spunkmeyer 2008-06-18 05:55PM | 0 recs
Re: Concerned as usual.

Interesting how you use the same language as the RNC...

by fbihop 2008-06-18 06:30PM | 0 recs
Re: The Proper Role of a First Spouse?
by fogiv 2008-06-18 02:28PM | 0 recs
Re: The Proper Role of a First Spouse?

 I think Michelle is just being courteous because of the same shown by Laura bush towards here over the "proud of my country" comment.  And really why should she not be...its refreshing

by aliveandkickin 2008-06-18 02:34PM | 0 recs
Re: The Proper Role of a First Spouse?

by Firewall 2008-06-18 02:32PM | 0 recs
Re: The Proper Role of a First Spouse?

Woking from home today I caught the show.  I think Michelle did an excellent job; came across as intelligent, humorous, informed, and poised.  

by ChitownDenny 2008-06-18 02:39PM | 0 recs
Re: The Proper Role of a First Spouse?

Perhaps she should've burned a Laura Bush doll in effigy?

And if she HAD referenced Clinton, the blogs would be alight with how sexist Michelle Obama is "she thinks Clinton's only there to bake cookies blahblahblah".

by ihaveseenenough 2008-06-18 02:41PM | 0 recs
Re: The Proper Role of a First Spouse?

I think what she said was not to fuel the fire. That doesn't mean not taking a position on anything, it means not trying to use your position to push issues that might be politically contentious. I am in a minority of folks that think it was a bad idea for Hillary to be put in charge of the health care plan. She wasn't really elected to any kind of post, and that was a pretty big deal to be left to an unelected, unappointed official.

Besides that, the more she tries to be demure, the more unfair it will seem if the GOP keeps hammering her. As Obama said, "I would never even think about attacking Cindy McCain."

by vcalzone 2008-06-18 02:54PM | 0 recs
Re: The Proper Role of a First Spouse?

In a parliamentary system a distinction exists between the "head of state" and "head of government" (a king, queen, or president is the first, the prime minister is the second).  It's the head of state's job to represent the interests of the nation and not get too involved in politics.  

In the US most of the duties of these two roles are combined in the presidency (though not completely, separation of powers means the president doesn't have any formal role in the activities of Congress).  Still.

There's a good argument to be made that the First Lady--or consort--or whatever, which is not any sort of official position, should construe his or her duties to be more along the lines of what a head of state would do rather than a head of government or party.

The electorate does not vote for the First Lady, and yet it's commonly understood that the person who occupies this position is entitled to a level of respect which is independent of whatever is happening in politics.

Don't think Laura Bush played her "head of state" role very well (did she ever find her issue?  the way some previous first ladies stumped for literacy, or care of the mentally ill, or some similar issue which was both neglected and not highly partisan).

Lastly, we haven't yet had a Republican First Lady who tried to throw herself into great political debates (and that's only a matter of time).  When this happens, I'm not sure people will be so warm to the idea that a First Lady or Gentleman should do this (what if she turned out to be like Anne Coulter?).

by IncognitoErgoSum 2008-06-18 02:57PM | 0 recs
Re: The Proper Role of a First Spouse?

I think Laura Bush's "issue" was literacy.  She used to be a school teacher.  I didn't feel she was a very prominent advocate though.. and considering the irony of her husband's lack of intelligence maybe this was a good thing.  LOL  I remember hearing that Bush doesn't read books - how funny is that?

by JustJennifer 2008-06-18 03:22PM | 0 recs
I thought it was

a gracious shout out to Mrs Bush. There were people who were interpreting Laura's comment as rather snide, it's nice to see Michelle wasn't one of them.

by Neef 2008-06-18 03:23PM | 0 recs
It was more than that.

It was a slam at Cindy McCain.  The "adding fuel to the fire" was a reference to Cindy's "well, we all heard her comments from earlier today, and all I can say is that I've ALWAYS been proud of MY country" sneer.

I thought it was a brilliant comment by Michelle Obama--implying that Cindy McCain has no class for her piling onto a Democratic politician's spouse by comparing her to Laura Bush's more gracious response, while at the same time taking the high and bipartisan road by praising a Republican politician's spouse.  It was just subtle enough, but just barbed enough.

by Elsinora 2008-06-18 05:58PM | 0 recs
I don't see

how you can infer a slam. If it was a slam, it was a poor one, as there was no "hook" to tie it to Cindy.

She didn't even say "as some others do". To me, the clear implication was "adding fuel to the fire [the way I do]"

by Neef 2008-06-19 04:36AM | 0 recs
Lord help the Congenitally Concerned

by authority song 2008-06-18 04:27PM | 0 recs
Thank you for your concern!

We can always count on Michigoose to step in and let us know how worried he is about all the flaws he sees in the Obama campaign.  It's touching, because he really wants Obama to win, right guys?

Here, Michigoose, step into the

You've earned it, big guy!

by spunkmeyer 2008-06-18 06:02PM | 0 recs
Re: Thank you for your concern!

Since I'm originally from Michigan, I believe he is probably a she. After all, Michigan residents are called Michiganders. That would imply that Michigoose is female. Then again, maybe I'm reading too much into a username.

Back to the subject of the diary. I think it's probably a good idea for Michele O. to imply that she will take some cues from Laura B. That doesn't mean I think she should play the demure wife who is always in the background. Once the election is over she can play whatever role she and her husband feel is best. Talking quietly during the campaign may set some fears to rest among fence-sitting voters.

Personally, I wouldn't mind seeing both wives become more of a campaign issue. I think any comparison between Cindy McCain and Michele Obama favors Michele.

by MS01 Indie 2008-06-18 07:57PM | 0 recs
Re: The Proper Role of a First Spouse?

That was in the context of all the attacks she/Barack has had to deal with.

Laura Bush is no attack dog.

by Falsehood 2008-06-18 08:14PM | 0 recs
It's just like Barack putting on a flag lapel pin

These people want to win, and are subtly shedding their "messenger of change" schtik. In an interview with John Harwood of CNBC last week, Obama stated that he might be willing to defer his tax increases on Capital Gains, etc. Look for a steady and continued tack toward the center.

Next will be some waffling on the timetable for withdrawal from Iraq. Just another politician... and "Michelle" will turn into Betty Crocker in no time. Look for her favorite cookie recipes to surface before long....probably during something substantial like an "Oprah" session.

The final irony of this long miserable campaign will be that as this happens, the centrists (pragmatists) will stand by Obama, as they have known all along that he is just another politician, probably marginally better than McCain. The "Obam-orons", who actually bought into all this bs, will be the first to turn on him, like flies on shit.

by BJJ Fighter 2008-06-18 08:25PM | 0 recs

A politician tacking to the center after a primary?  

by JJE 2008-06-18 08:29PM | 0 recs
Re: The Proper Role of a First Spouse?

Coincidentally, AOL is using Michelle's The View appearance to do a comparison of the candidates' wives.  Unfortunately, they only polled Michelle's favorables, and not Cindy McCain's.  As of about 3:30 am EDAT:

Does your opinion of a candidate's spouse influence your vote?
61% yes  
38% no  
I don't vote 1%
total votes   186,404

What is your general opinion of Michelle Obama?

Unfavorable  58% (116,145)
Favorable 33%    (64,785)
I don't have an opinion  9% (17,680)

I was very, very surprised how many people let their opinion of a politician's spouse affect their vote.

by LIsoundview 2008-06-19 01:01AM | 0 recs
This issue shows just how different Ds and Rs are.

When you look at the Republican candidates from primary season, almost all of them took the caveman approach that a wife was to be seen and not heard - especially the most "christian" ones, like Huckabee, whose wife was not allowed to speak a single word during the entire process.

Then, you look at the Democrats, and their wives act like... gasp... EQUAL HUMAN BEINGS!?!?!?!

We had Elizabeth Edwards front and center.

We had Michelle Obama front and center.

We had Bill Clinton... ok we had a freaking woman almost win the nomination!!!

Its funny.  Last night, I was watching CNN, and they had Larry Sabato on, and he said that the wives of the candidates should be seen and not heard, that they should just look pretty, that they should not discuss policy or feed the flames of controversy, that the more they are in the background as a trophy (my words not his), the more they help their candidate.  What a modern guy.  He's at the forefront of the nineteenth century!

by PJ Jefferson 2008-06-19 03:40AM | 0 recs
Re: Issue shows how different Ds and Rs are

You bet the Ds are much different from the Rs.

And Larry Sabato, who used to have some credibility, has become a dolt.

I'll take issue with your comment re Mrs. Huckabee, though.  We really don't know that she had anything to say or wanted to be heard.  Don't forget many of these spouses have been married many years and life has taken them and their spouses places they didn't plan on going when first wed.

Also, a number of Dem spouses are not heard from - Dodd, Biden, Richardson- probably of their own choice as well.  My husband was not in politics, but I know for sure I would have nothing to say if asked to comment on his professional life.  I could offer an endorsement of him as a person, ethics, etc., but not re his work.

by susie 2008-06-19 10:31AM | 0 recs


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