First helpmate

McCarthy, Abigail

OF SEVERAL HINDS Abigail McCarthy FIRST HELPMATE INFLUENCE IN THE WHITE HOUSE To those of us who arc periodically interviewed about it, it is a worn and tattered subject that of the role...

...Reporters and commentators, as one observer has said, flock after each other like blackbirds leaving a telephone wire...
...pesperate to help her slowly recuperating husband who seemed unable to comprehend and cope with the dimensions of the "Iranscam" scandal, she did what she could to have chief of staff Don Regan, whom she regarded as unhelpful and self- seeking, and his hand-picked aides, replaced...
...The crux of the matter is that we as a nation are very ambivalent about what we want from the First Lady...
...Furthermore, he noted, most presidential advisors aren't elected...
...In other words, she herself urged the replacement as strongly as she tactfully could, and then enlisted the help of friends...
...The fury of these most vociferous critics was fueled by their opposition to any arms control agreement and their perception that the effect of the Regan dismissal would be to further Nancy Reagan's supposed plans to secure one and make her husband a "peace president...
...Roosevelt, and the cruel swipes at her taken by Walter Winchelli" his gossip column...
...They have for example, centered in the recent past around Lady Bird Johnson's reported lobbying against billboards and for other environmental issues, Betty Ford's support of the ERA, and Rosalynn Carter's insistence on attending cabinet meetings and having business lunches with her husband...
...She welcomes heads of state, presides at state dinners, makes public appearances in person and through the media, attends local and national celebrations, and becomes the patroness of selected charities...
...And what a flurry there will be then...
...She is also expected to be a kind of national wife the embodiment of American womanhood...
...As First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt claimed the public sphere for wives once and for all...
...It is absurd to think that she should be...
...In terms of public performance, the First Lady functions as representative of the nation...
...In doing so she altered the position of the political wife and what was expected of her...
...Said Cannon, a long time Reagan-watcher: Nancy Reagan's influence has been indisputable in only one arena: protection of her husband from personal staff and schedules that she considers detrimental to his well-being...
...The flurries have been many...
...Her campaign to replace Regan was supported by more Republican leaders and presidential associates...
...Already Senate and House wives hold places in the cabinet, head the National Endowment for the Arts, and hold other appointments...
...the only difference was that the venoffl ^ the attacks on her and the vigor of the denunciations have not been matched since the days of Eleanor Roosevelt, A slashing column by William Saftre intbe New York Times was reminiscent of to long-ago diatribes in the Hearst P"*5* aimed at Mrs...
...Even here, perception sometimes exceeds reality...
...In the waning years.of the twentieth century the national wife cannot be confined to the private sphere...
...OF SEVERAL HINDS Abigail McCarthy FIRST HELPMATE INFLUENCE IN THE WHITE HOUSE To those of us who arc periodically interviewed about it, it is a worn and tattered subject that of the role of the First Lady of the United States and, by derivation, of all political wives...
...The time may soon be coming when an incoming First Lady will demand a public office of her own...
...Although she.is not elected or appointed we expect her to work for us...
...What exactly did the First Lady do...
...The elevation to high status comes quickly and, obviously, without any real preparation...
...Yes, said right-wing columnists and TV personalities like Robert Novak who screamed (rather contradictorily) that she had no right to a stand because she was not elected, and that she had abused her "power...
...Interestingly enough, the right of Mrs...
...Yes, said the conservatives in her husband's following...
...The questions and assumptions have been the same time after time over the last twenty years...
...We can assume that she made representations to the president...
...The wife who campaigns on her own, makes speeches on the issues, holds press conferences, assists in fundraising, and rallies support when her husband is running can hardly be expected to withdraw her interest once her husband has achieved office...
...Her participation once he is in office must be limited by her own interests and her husband's acceptance of her participation, not by any stereotypical prescription of role...
...Roosevelt held one briefly as assistant director of the Office of Civilian Defense but resigned because of the hostility of Congress...
...Bode amusedly made the point on the Today Show that first ladies may not be elected but that the voters know that they will get the wife with the husband and, if they don't want her, they don't have to elect him...
...Reagan as an arms control "specialist" has only "a snippet of reality...
...He remarked further that the new view of Mrs...
...Does that go beyond what a wife should do...
...24 April 1987: 231...
...In the recent flap over Nancy Reagao...
...Being First Lady is not a casual or part-time occupation, but a full-time job...
...They have plenty of time to see what they're getting...
...Reagan is a far cry from being* Mrs...
...It goes without saying that Mrs...
...We (aiow that she reinforced her own attempt toinfluence him by "leaking" to favored journalists and meeting with at least one columnist whose subsequent strongly expressed views were undoubtedly called to the president's attention...
...Why should only the president's wife be precluded from advising on that account...
...When a First Lady follows in their footsteps we may have to employ a substitute national wife...
...Reagan to influence her husband was defended by other political wives rather than the more vocal feminists (the "helpmate" wife is not in fashion), and by seasoned political reporters like Ken Bode and Lou Cannon...
...It might not have succeeded except for the Tower report's finding...
...Of course, she wants her husband to be a peace president, "an unstartling view for first ladies in the nuclear age...
...Roosevelt, but it is interesting that 230: Commonweal j),e outcry against her comes from the sajne kinds of sources: the predictably partisan, those whose concept of wifej,ood is the Kinder, Kirche, Kiiche variejy and, significantly, those "molders of public opinion" who seek to influence jjie president in another direction...
...Mrs...

Vol. 114 • April 1987 • No. 8


 
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