The EFM Feature

James Traub of the New York Times apparently doesn’t realize a guy named Mitt is running for President. His recent article called, “First Family Values” compares the Democrat and Republican Presidential candidates to George and Laura Bush:

It’s a good bet that whoever moves into the White House in January 2009 will offer the American people a more contemporary tableau of family life than the one we have witnessed for the last six years. George and Laura Bush seem to be an admirably well-suited and loving couple, the very model of a first family (minus a few untoward events involving the kids). They’re a throwback couple, like Rob and Laura Petrie from “The Dick Van Dyke Show” — one amiable and slightly buffoonish, the other tolerant and wryly exasperated. The fictional Laura (played by Mary Tyler Moore) was a lot goofier than the real one; but each knew her place, which was in the home, by the side of her man.
The kind of high-achieving people who vie to run the Western democracies nowadays tend to have marriages with a more complex dynamic. Some have quasi marriages or even nonmarriages: the recent presidential election in France pitted a man whose wife had apparently abandoned him for a fling against a woman who hasn’t married the father of her children. A complex union does not, of course, have to be a fractious one. Tony and Cherie Blair seem as loving and well suited as the Bushes, but in her role as attorney, Cherie Booth, as she is still known professionally, sued her husband’s government a few years back over regulations governing parental leave. The British, accustomed to stultifying propriety in the role of first spouse, were shocked, but they seem to have gotten over it.

Here’s his run-down of the Republicans:

Among the Republicans, John McCain is divorced and remarried, while Rudy Giuliani has been divorced and remarried twice. The uxorious ex-mayor told Barbara Walters that his new wife, Judith, would sit in on the cabinet meetings of a Giuliani administration “if she wanted to” and would be involved in the formulation of policy “to the extent she wants to be.” Meanwhile, Fred Thompson, who cut a wide swath through Washington in his single days, and Newt Gingrich, a veteran of two divorces and three marriages, seem prepared to join the race over the next few months.

And the Dems:

The Democratic field, meanwhile, offers highly educated baby boomers who married their equals in talent and professional ambition — the Tony and Cherie model. (Perhaps we have a new red-blue typology here — Multiply Married vs. Power Couple.) We are, of course, intimately familiar with the epic soap opera that is Bill and Hillary (or rather, in its new incarnation, Hillary and Bill). But there was always something archaic about the episodes involving a philandering husband and a wife waving the frying pan. The sleek, high-octane Barack and Michelle Obama come much closer to a contemporary ideal; the fact that they are black carries the additional message that race is no longer an absolute bar even to the most elevated cultural status. And we can only hope that, should John Edwards become president, his wife, Elizabeth, afflicted with Stage 4 cancer, has the chance to show that cancer does not necessarily preclude leading a full, fearless life.

In American, he tells us, the First Family is a more solemn entity – one that is idealized in the archaic form we know as George and Laura.

I don’t think it’s too much to hope that a different kind of first family could also blur the sharp line of red-blue antagonism. The endless fight over “values” always seems to pit two idealized states against each other — the prelapsarian world of “the intact family” against the liberatory culture of “the ’60s.” Who actually lives in one of these worlds — besides the current tenants of the White House? Wouldn’t it be to our benefit to scramble those boundaries?

So, I’ll give him points for using the word “uxorious” to describe Rudy. And, he’s right about this: the “Religious Right” that’s supposed to be the GOP has done a poor job of, well, staying married to the first (or second) woman they vowed to stay with til death did them part. However, I think there’s a bit missing here. I don’t know… Let me see…. Isn’t there one major Republican candidate who’s leading the polls in Iowa and New Hampshire and apparently still dwells in the “prelapsarian” and “archaic” world of “intact families?”
Well, if he was elected, it just might blow a hole in the writer’s theory: the next First Family will have a “more complex dynamic” because the American people “might appreciate a White House couple with a few dents and dings.”


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