The more I think about it, I’m starting to get a little disappointed in Richard Nixon. Why didn’t his team ever figure out that all of his problems, from Watergate to pesky reporters to, well, the Jews, could so easily be dumped on his wife? “It’s Pat—she drove us to these reckless decisions. We all tried to stop her.” But those were the days when Republican wives were quiet homemakers in their “respectable cloth coats,” not all uppity like Jackie Kennedy.
Those days, apparently, are gone. The latest ugly fad in GOP circles is to blame everything on the Mrs. “The problem was the wife,” is the headline of a gossipy piece by Fred Barnes on Newt Gingrich’s political collapse. No one in the article is courageous enough to say this on the record, by the way, but we all know—wink, wink—what’s really going on.
The former speaker of the United States House of Representatives, college professor, nemesis of presidents, author of umpteen books, relentless Amazon book reviewer, outspoken commentator on Fox News and every Sunday show in America, is unable to walk from here to there without Callista holding his hand while tripping the blind and stealing money from church collection plates to fund her countless Tiffany rings and Greek cruises.
It was Callista, officer, who forced her husband to make his inelegant comments on Medicare that infuriated the conservative base. It was Callista who used witchcraft or voodoo to make it impossible for well-paid, experienced campaign aides—all of them adults—to earn the trust and respect of a veteran political operator. It was Callista who was behind Newt’s embarrassing glitter-bombing by a gay activist. And it was Callista who placed a gag and handcuffs on her husband and forced him to take a vacation away from the oppressive Washington heat.
Well I, for one, am not buying it. And I have to say I’m a little ticked off that Newt Gingrich’s campaign collapse is suddenly all Callista’s fault.
Come to think of it, the GOP’s “wife is the villain” motif is not completely novel. In the 1980s, before the Reagans became America’s version of Grandpa and Grandma Moses, Nancy Reagan was the Cruella de Ville to Ronnie’s sweet-as-a-puppy-dog presidency. And in 2008, that role was played by Jeri Thompson—Fred’s so-called trophy wife—who prevented his campaign’s genius, faultless advisers from making the former Tennessee senator our nation’s commander in chief. (Fred, by the way, would have none of that. He used to joke, “Jeri’s not the trophy wife. I’m the trophy husband.”) So far, however, the 2012 campaign has taken all this up another unsavory notch.
This year the nation was deprived of Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour’s talents as president, those close to the would-be candidate claimed, because of the opposition of Marsha. Mississippi’s first lady, we were told, was “horrified” at the thought of a presidential run.
This may or may not be true, but doesn’t that show some good sense? I don’t know Mrs. Barbour, but I get the feeling that she wouldn’t enjoy being this century’s Madame Defarge. But being a Southern gentleman, Gov. Barbour, like Fred Thompson, never blamed his wife for his own decision-making. How retro.
The same cannot be said for Indiana’s Mitch Daniels, who all but publicly pleaded with his wife to “allow” him to join the presidential race. Daniels “would have liked” to have been president, a “top” adviser told reporters, but the nefarious Cheri stood in the way. Even Laura Bush, who was spared the role of Bush’s White House troublemaker (the role was filled by everyone else), was deployed to change Mrs. Daniels’ mind.
But Cheri, apparently, did not want her untidy but quite human personal life (divorce, custody fight, and remarriage to the governor) to be fodder for every tabloid in America. Nor did she savor the prospect of the contents of her garbage can becoming a news segment on MSNBC. She ought to have been praised for her good sense; she wasn’t. Announcing his decision to stay out of the race, the governor rather unchivalrously pointed the finger at the person who deprived us of the unparalleled joy that would have been a Daniels campaign. “I was able to resolve every competing consideration but one,” he said. Yuck. Maybe the real question is how could Daniels convince the country he should be president if he couldn’t convince his wife.
The Republican Party long has been the one that preaches individual responsibility. Perhaps those seeking to lead it might find a way to make use of that particular virtue. And, it must be said, press outlets might want to think twice before allowing them to do otherwise.
All of which brings us to the primary reason why Americans should welcome Michele Bachmann to the race. It’s unlikely that anyone will blame her problems on her husband. And he doesn’t have a skirt for her to hide behind.