From Mrs. Washington to Mrs. McCain, Obama
Bill Harris, author of The First Ladies Book: The Stories of the Women of the White House from Martha Washington to Laura Bush, spoke with amNewYork this past week on this election cycles possible first ladies He offered a historical perspective on the role and how Michelle Obama and Cindy McCain figure in. Here are more excerpts from the interview:
What's the history of women campaigning for their candidate husbands?
In 1880, Grover Cleveland ran for president for his second term. He was about 50 years old, and Frances Cleveland was 22. She was immensely popular. The story went around that he had bought her baby carriage when she was born. He had known her all his life.
How did she help his campaign?
The press fell in love with her because she was beautiful and she was young. The Democrats put her picture on the campaign posters. She didnt really campaign but her picture on the posters.
No one did the same for presidents before her?
Its hard to imagine Martha Washington ever out campaigning for her husband. He was such a hero that people take out their hate for him on her. She was attacked more than he was.
(continued) What would you say is the classic first lady role?
The role of first lady right up to the modern era was mainly of White House hostess. Its very hard to imagine Mrs. Truman or Mrs. Eisenhower ever out campaigning.
But in the modern era?
Hillary Clinton was much better at politics than at campaign, but Jackie Kennedy, for example, she was not a political person. She was more of a social person.
Who best plays the better role of classic first lady from this election cycle?
Without knowing much about either one of them, I would say that Cindy McCain would be the much better party-giver than Michelle Obama. Mrs. McCain has probably entertained a lot in her life. [Her family owns] a Budweiser distributor. She grew up as a privileged person much like Jackie Kennedy and thats where theyre similar as far as politics are concerned.