Magazine article Insight on the News

First Lady's Role: Be Seen, but Not Heard, on Policy Issues

Magazine article Insight on the News

First Lady's Role: Be Seen, but Not Heard, on Policy Issues

Article excerpt

Hillary Rodham Clinton is the "transitional" first lady. That's the if conventional wisdom. But transitional to what?

The wives lining up with their husbands for the race to the White House are learning from Hillary's on-the-job experience. They want a life they can call their own.

Elizabeth "Liddy" Hanford Dole, for example, announced that she's going to remain as president of the Red Cross while her husband campaigns for the Republican nomination.

The last time her husband ran for president, she drew the ire of feminists for sacrificing her career for his. She quit her job as a federal trade commissioner in 1979 to work on his campaign and resigned as President Reagan's secretary of transportation in 1988 to campaign for his second attempt. This time it looks like she wants job security.

"I believe, like many others," Liddy says, "that women should be able to make their own decisions about their careers. My husband and I have two very separate careers; we care about them deeply."

She will give speeches, but not about foreign policy. She intends to campaign to inspire confidence in her husband's capabilities, rather than discuss specific issues. "I believe I can be personally supportive of Bob and continue to lead the Red Cross."

Bob Dole, looking at Hillary's fall in the polls and her disastrous excursion into developing health care policy, is somewhat more direct. "If I'm elected," he says, "Elizabeth will not be in charge of health care policy."

This is no "buy one, get one free" scenario.

The other day I talked to Wendy Gramm's husband over a lunch of chicken salad and asked him what kind of first lady his wife would be. He was very direct. He noted that he has never criticized the current first lady and he calls Wendy the most important person in his life. "But I don't think my wife sees herself as some kind of surrogate president," he says. "People believe they elect the president, not the president's family."

If Wendy wanted to be president, he said, she'd run herself Jennifer Bradley in The New Republic calls Mrs. Gramm "Hillary's Nightmare" who could be "marketed as the anti-Hillary."

She's an asset among those voters who might be taken with the idea of a multicultural first couple in the White House. Wendy is of Korean-American ancestry, but she never hyphenates herself. Phil Gramm describes his wife's family as illustrative of the American Dream: Her immigrant grandparents cut sugarcane in Hawaii, her father managed a sugar company and Wendy regulated trading in sugar futures as chairwoman of the U. …

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