Barbara Bush reacting to a large balloon at the 1992 RNC
Setting a precedent for future first ladies, Barbara Bush’s speech at 1992 Republican National Convention highlighted an important task that can be accomplished by none other than the first lady herself: humanizing the president. Following Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, and other political powerhouses, Barbara’s speech “[intended] to show that everyone was important to [George] Bush” (Washington Post).
While not highly analyzed in mainstream political media, the first lady’s task to humanize their presidential “hubby” is certainly a concern for the 2012 Presidential election between Barack Obama’s wife, Michelle Obama, and Mitt Romney’s wife, Ann Romney.
For those that watched Michelle’s speech at this year’s Democratic National Convention, one could not help tearing up as she masterfully painted beautiful images of their humble roots, romantic dates in Barack’s rusty car, and their undying love for their children and one another. (Watch a highlight of the video here)
In fact, in most of Michelle’s speeches on talk shows, radio programs, and other media events, she never fails to mention her children, or what a wonderful husband and father Barack is. In fact, both Barack and Michelle appeared on “The View” recently, where she mentioned that he can be “very loving, very giving, and funny” (Washington Post)
The Obama’s on their highly photographed anniversary dinner
On the other hand, Ann Romney has been getting much less favorable attention from the media. “All those kids that voted for Obama that are now unemployed” she says, “wake up…it’s time to fire the coach” (Wall Street Journal). It seems like the public is highly opposed to potential first ladies taking political stances and getting involved in the mudslinging. However, the Romney campaign has kept Ann out of the political spotlight for most of the campaign in comparison to Michelle, mentioning to the WSJ that we’ll be seeing more of her however in October and November.
So what’s the importance of humanizing the presidential candidates?
A recent Pew Poll shows that 66% of voters believe Obama can better “connect well with ordinary people” compared to Romney’s 23%. 48% believe Obama to be honest and truthful and 50% believe he shares their values, Romney trailing behind with 34% and 40% respectively.
This is particularly valuable for independent and undecided voters, who would like to see a president reflect their interest in the next 4 years of his or her presidency. However, it is unclear to what extent the humanization of a presidential candidate plays in poll statistics.
It seems rather degrading and sexist, though, to subjugate the first lady’s task to humanizing the presidential campaign with whimsical stories of their more youthful years. A tweet by Susan Reimer, a columnist for the Baltimore Sun, reads ” Ann Romney’s Goal: Humanize Mitt, MIchelle’s goal: Humanize Barack. Political Wives are just a notch above a meat tenderizer”
After all, there may one day be a female president and a first gentleman. Would typical gender norms prevail?