THE OTHER DR. DEAN*
Drudge made a big deal of this NYT story: Dean’s Wife Shuns Politics and the story has caught the fancy of the blog world.
Michele Catalano is angry that anyone would make an issue of it. Steven Taylor was fairly analytical for 5:44 in the morning. McAllan thinks it wrong for reasons he can’t put his finger on and dubs it a “hit piece.” Kevin Drum thinks the report is a fair reflection of human nature.
Much of this simply reflects the changing expectations in society as to the role of wives, political or otherwise. Certainly, it’s not scandalous that a medical doctor would continue her career rather than spending two years wandering around the hustings in Iowa and New Hampshire with her ambitious hubby. Still, if all the other wives are doing it, then her not doing it sticks out like the proverbial sore thumb. And, of course, Dean is the frontrunner and thus he gets more scrutiny.
The wives of presidents and presidential candidates have come under great scrutiny for longer than I can remember. Certainly, Eleanor Roosevelt and Jackie Kennedy were major public figures. Nancy Reagan came under very harsh criticism for her rather upscale tastes; there was a huge flap over expensive china she bought for the White House and something about the dresses she wore. Much later was the astrology business and charges that she was meddling with the staff. Barbara Bush was much beloved and very much a part of the campaigns, especially the ill-fated 1992 reelection bid. Hillary Clinton was a major lightning rod before she re-inserted the “Rodham.” I doubt Bill could have survived the Gennifer Flowers scandal had Hillary not, ironically, stood by her man on 60 Minutes. Liddy Dole was by far the most charismatic Dole campaigning in 1996. Al Gore reignited a moribund campaign with that long kiss with Tipper at the 2000 Democratic convention. Like it or not, the wives matter.
We’re certainly in a new era. Most women have jobs now even after the marriage. Many, like Dr. Steinberg, have actual careers. It’s almost certainly unfair to expect them to drop everything in support of their husbands. Indeed, my guess is we won’t expect that of the husband of the first viable female candidate for president. Still, I wonder if there wouldn’t be more criticism if Steinberg were a librarian or a schoolteacher rather than a doctor?
More than anything, though, this story is about Howard Dean as a person rather than about whether his wife campaigns with him. Frankly, by the standards of people running for high office, Howard Dean is a little odd. Given the type of people we seem to attract as candidates, that may be a good thing. But most people gravitate to presidential candidates who simultaneously exude an air of confidence and yet come across as a “regular guy.” George W. Bush fits that image. All of the dismissal of him as a “frat boy” in 2000 was rather comical, in that most people actually like their leaders to be the type of guy who was chasing girls and going to parties in college. Al Gore realized that and spent most of the campaign trying to do one make-over after another. Indeed, the aforementioned kiss was one such attempt to humanize himself.
It’s not unnatural for people to wonder what kind of man Dean is, and his relationship with his family is part of this. Clearly, to an unusual extent for public figures, the Deans lead separate lives. (Indeed, one wonders whether to call them “the Deans” since, technically, she isn’t a Dean but rather a Steinberg.) He has his career, she hers. He has his religion, she has hers. Some people will find that strange. They have every right to that opinion and to weigh that in when deciding whom to elect as their president.
Personally, I think there are enough reasons not to vote for Howard Dean without worrying about this one.
*Actually, she’s going by her maiden name “Steinberg,” but that makes for a lousy headline.