Domestic, Opinion, Uncategorized — September 8, 2012 at 3:20 pm

(First) Ladies First

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photo from Wikimedia Commons

Behind every president, with the exception of James Buchanan, there has been a strong first lady helping her husband deal with the pressure and problems inherent in running the country.

On July 18, 1940, Eleanor Roosevelt became the first first lady to give a speech at a national nominating convention. This front and center, national level appearance on behalf of FDR, during her husband’s third campaign for the presidency, is a tradition that lives on today.

At their respective political conventions, Ann Romney and Michelle Obama each tried to humanize their husbands, to explain why they were better than the alternative, and to appeal to female voters.

When comparing the two speeches, Michelle Obama drives all three points home more effectively than Ann Romney. The first lady was able to truly humanize her husband with stories of his childhood, his struggles with student loans, and his achievements in office. She was also able to make the speech relatable to women of all classes, ages, and backgrounds touching on issues that apply to each group.

Mrs. Romney on the other hand delivered her speech well, but there were fewer stories. Overall her speech was a little heavy handed in the approach to gain the votes of women — at one point she shouted “I love you women.” Mrs. Romney focused most heavily on middle class women who keep the home. While Mrs. Romney did try to appeal to other demographics she first singled out parents by only talking about issues in relation to family and mostly in relation to children. Then she singled out women with “It’s the moms who always have to work a little harder, to make everything right.” She tried to reach all demographics of mother “It’s the moms of this nation — single, married, widowed — who really hold this country together. We’re the mothers, we’re the wives, we’re the grandmothers, we’re the big sisters, we’re the little sisters, we’re the daughters.” In contrast, Mrs. Obama touched on topics that related to many if not all demographics and seemed more at ease with the text and tenor of her speech. When she discussed growing up with her working class parents and her story of having more student loan debt when she first got married than mortgage debt surely struck a chord with many listeners. She also acknowledged “that so many people had a hand in our success, from the teachers who inspired us to the janitors who kept our school clean … and we were taught to value everyone’s contribution and treat everyone with respect.”

Campaigns that include the wives of the candidates often lighten the tone and galvanize the female electorate. If a campaign chooses to do this then the speech should address issues that are important to the campaign as a whole but also those issues which are more particular to the demographic being appealed to. This basic logic means that in a campaign that has seen, both in the primary season and the national campaign, women’s reproductive rights as a front and center issue one would expect Ann Romney to at least reference them.

Now I am not saying that the entire speech should have been focused on the issue of women’s health care rights, but the issue should have at least paid it lip service. Ann Romney’s commentary would presumably have taken the opposite side, but it would have been interesting to hear an educated woman try to defend the RNC platform or even her own husband’s stated opinions on insurance coverage for birth control, the availability of abortion, or even just the availability of cancer screening and prenatal care as provided by Planned Parenthood and other worthy organizations.

One can make the argument that Mrs. Romney stayed away from the issue all together and Mrs. Obama was mostly avoiding the issue as well because both campaigns would rather focus on the economy. But this issue has been so controversial lately because both other politicians (remember Senator Santorum during the primaries, and Senator Akin most recently) and the public want to discuss it. These campaigns cannot avoid this issue just because they want to focus on other topics, especially with the links Vice President Nominee Paul Ryan has to recent bills such as the Sanctity of Life Act of 2009. And let’s not forget his rape is just another “method of conception” gaffe.

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