Wednesday, August 04, 2004
It is truly disturbing the depths to which modern (Republican) campaigning has sunk. First it was Kitty Dukakis' substance abuse problems, then Hilary for not being feminine enough, now there is a similar assault on Teresa. Why is it that the right is so quick to attack an opponent's spouse?
I think that Republicans are trying to use the Dem's wives to send a symbolic message about the candidate, and even the party as a whole. First of all, one of their target groups is working class women with children. If the prospective first lady can be painted as contemptuous of "family values," it reinforces the social wedge issue (do you remember the Tammy Wynette flap?). It also can be used to pursue the "liberal elitist" line. This is why Hilary's professionalism and Teresa's wealth and outspoken behavior have been hyped by the Republicans. It allows conservatives to paint the Democrats as looking down on middle income traditionalist mothers.
The other advantage of the wife issue is the latent belief that a strong wife makes for a weak husband. This is absurd, of course- marriage is not a zero sum game. In fact, I would suggest that any man who deliberately chose a forceful wife should be commended for his own strength (truth in advertising- I married to strong woman myself). Only weaklings wanted to be surrounded by weaklings. But this is not what most of the population believes, so if Teresa, Hilary, and whoever are prominent in the campaign, then it only reinforces the perception of the Democratic nominee as lacking in strength.
These are all despicable maneuvers, of course. But they do explain why Democratic campaign managers have tried to keep the spouses under wraps. If they don't, they not only weaken their candidate but give the right yet another opportunity to play to America's worst and most misguided prejudices.
I think a better strategy would be to highlight the issue. Responding to the attacks is good politics - no one looks stronger than when they are standing up for their family (Clinton did this to great effect during the '92 primaries). I also think it is good policy- if we point to how the Republicans are once again trying to pit one group against the other (professional vs. traditional women), we can not only shut them up but perhaps change some minds.