By Julia Hotz
“Behind every great man, there is an even greater woman.” Perhaps it is this (100 percent accurate) assertion that has the nation fascinated with comparing Ann Romney to Michelle Obama. From evaluating their dresses to their addresses, the presidential “spouse-off” between Ann and Michelle is attracting almost as much attention as the election itself! But why? Should the candidate’s wife be a factor in whom you vote for?
According to Lisa M. Burns, the recent author of First Ladies and the Fourth Estate: Press Framing of Presidential Wives, “First Ladyship” has been characterized by four successive themes. For the majority of U.S. history, the First Lady’s role was to serve as a “public woman,” an effort that was perhaps best embodied by the ladyship of Dolley Madison. Her assistance to both orphans and under-privileged women (as she ironically clad herself in the most elegant and pricey of dresses) served as the model for First Ladyship up until 1930.
This is when Eleanor Roosevelt entered the scene. Considering that her paralyzed husband Franklin was in no condition to physically attend his presidential obligations, Eleanor often assumed his role. Evolving into a “political celebrity” (Burns’ second theme), she even authored a column in the weekly newspaper and hosted a radio show to share her experiences with the public.
The changing times of the 20th century allowed for the first lady’s role to become even more prevalent. From Lady Bird Johnson’s fight for environmental protection, to Rosalynn Carter’s aid for the mentally disabled, the first lady’s transformation from a “political celebrity” to a “political activist” was in effect. However, it was Nancy Reagan’s efforts that coined the most recent theme of first ladyship, “the political interloper.” From championing the “Just Say No” drug awareness campaign, to influencing Ronald’s interactions with Soviet General Secretary Gorbachev, it was Nancy Reagan’s persistent efforts that best exemplify the First Lady’s role today.
Why, then, when I Google “Ann Romney and Michelle Obama,” is the first result a news story covering a “Fancy Dress Face Off” between the two prospective ladies? Furthermore, why did their recent speeches at their respective conventions resemble Taylor Swift styled “love stories” of their married life, and emotionally-charged accounts of their financial hardships (without a mention of how they could specifically reform future potential hardships)?
It’s the same reason we listen to those Taylor Swift songs, the same reason we’re in billions of dollars of credit card debt, and the same reason every 10th grade English student reads The Great Gatsby: we LOVE the American Dream. We picture ourselves as overcoming our struggle and eventually becoming either that pink-cheeked, exquisitely-dressed First Lady or the lucky gent who gets to walk beside her. And while we know that times-are-tough and we need politicians who will reform our economy to make obtaining this dream a more viable pursuit, we can’t help but be intrigued by the $2,000 red dress that Ann Romney radiates in as she elegantly waves to the crowd.
Yet when these ladies enter office, the “political interloping” will commence; the coral dresses and romantic tales will no longer be necessary, as you have already fallen victim to their dream. But for now, these ladies see their role as getting you (the voter) to fall in love with their life, and electing their husband to office. As Taylor Swift would phrase it, “it’s a love story, baby just say yes!”