What’s Right: The Role of A Politician’s Spouse

Connor Madalo, Maroon-News Staff

In politics, we often hold our elected officials to the highest of standards, and with good reason given the power they are granted. They must attend the best schools, have the most experience, present the cleanest of records (or at least sometimes they must) and demonstrate all the qualities of a great leader. However, if there is one aspect of a politician that pulls them away form this idealized vision, it is their family.

Family is a universally human concept and experience that makes the most plastic of politicians relatable, if at least only for a moment. When assessing a candidate, we often look to their family to get a sense of their personal moral compass, to see who the candidate is and where their priorities lie. And during this critique, no person is given more attention than a candidate’s spouse.

The role of a politician’s spouse is a difficult one, especially when they hold an office which receives constant attention and scrutiny, like the presidency. Apart from being a litmus test for the public to get a sense of the personal life and qualities of a candidate, spouses often have to put their own pursuits aside and be there for their partner through both thick and thin. One of the more difficult tasks regarding this occurs when spouses become the target of political attacks.

Early in Ronald Reagan’s presidency, when the U.S. economy was sunk into a recession, the press began criticizing First Lady Nancy Reagan for accepting free clothes and ordering new china for the White House redecoration, coming up with the nickname “Queen Nancy.” Instead of shaming the press for making such a remark, Nancy made fun of herself, attending a white-tie event in an outfit of second-hand clothes composed of yellow rubber boots, a blue-flowered Hawaiian skirt, a red blouse, long fake pearls, a white feather boa and a plumed hat. Afterwards, the press strayed away from criticizing Nancy’s style and her public perception greatly improved.

In our current administration, First Lady Melania Trump has received on-and-off criticism from the press. Most notably, for wearing a jacket with the phrase “I really don’t care. Do U?” on the back. Although many asserted it was an apathetic message about child separation at the border, she responded to the criticism saying, “It was for the people and for the left-wing media who are criticizing me and I want to show them that I don’t care.” She later added, “It was kind of a message, yes. I would prefer that they would focus on what I do and on my initiatives than what I wear.”

As the 2020 Presidential Election approaches and more women enter the candidate pool, speculation has again grown as to whether America will have its first female president, and with her election, its first First Man. With this possibility, speculation has grown as to what the specific title and role the husband of a president would take on. However, given that the president is the president regardless of gender, the same rules should apply for their spouse and the role will likely remain the same.

Another question raised following such conversations is whether the absence of a spouse gives a politician, particularly younger ones, an electoral disadvantage. While having a spouse and a family certainly generates broader voter appeal in most cases, a few politicians have managed to succeed without them. For example, much of Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s appeal comes from her being a young, independent woman. While having a spouse could hypothetically help the electoral odds of politicians like her in some ways, it may hurt them as well.

In the ever changing and wild world of politics, the political spouse is a role that rarely receives recognition, and if it is given attention, it is rarely ever for a good reason. However, on this Valentine’s Day, take the time to think about the important role that spouses play both in our politics and our own personal lives. After all, imagine how much crazier politics would be if politicians did not have a family they could come back to and remind them, if not the general public, that they are human too.

Contact Connor Madalo at [email protected]