AS the election of 2008 approaches with its cast of contenders who bring unprecedented diversity to the quest for the White House, the voting public has been called on to ponder several questions: Is America ready for a woman to be president? What about a black man? A Mormon?
Now, with the possible candidacy of Fred D. Thompson, the grandfatherly actor and former Republican senator from Tennessee, whose second wife is almost a quarter-century his junior, comes a less palatable inquiry that is spurring debate in Internet chat rooms, on cable television and on talk radio: Is America ready for a president with a trophy wife?
The question may seem sexist, even crass, but serious people — as well as Mr. Thompson’s supporters — have been wrestling with the public reaction to Jeri Kehn Thompson, whose youthfulness, permanent tan and bleached blond hair present a contrast to the 64-year-old man who hopes to win the hearts of the conservative core of the Republican party. Will the so-called values voters accept this union?
You may be wondering why someone who writes for a blog called Evangelicals for Mitt feels compelled to comment on this. Let me explain.
First, while we’re obviously “for Mitt” here, that doesn’t mean we’re happy to see slime thrown all over the other candidates, much less their spouses. It is almost beyond comprehension that the New York Times, which claims to be a credible and professional source of news, is using the terms “trophy wife” and “home wrecker” in a story that professes to be anything other than an attempt to model The Onion. I know it is the job of the media to scrutinize those who seek to lead our nation–that’s fine, and in Governor Romney’s case especially, they are certainly doing that. But fulfilling the historic role of a free press–keeping the government in check–has nothing to do with publicizing, much less making, lewd comments about public figures. It would be bad enough if the Times did this to an actual candidate–but picking on a candidate’s wife in this way is even worse.
Second, and more importantly, much of this Times article is predicated upon figuring out whether conservative evangelicals like us will vote against Senator Thompson because of what his wife looks like. Look at the portion I quoted above–it references “so-called values voters” as its reason for concern. Well, this “values voter” thinks there are good and bad reasons to vote for Governor Romney and against everyone else, including Senator Thompson. Those include the fact that Governor Romney has exhibited leadership on the issues we care about on the most difficult terrain, is talking sense on the threats our nation faces, has a long history of running huge and complicated enterprises well, and has lived out–through pretty much his entire life–the social values we hold dear. No other candidate can claim to have done all of those things.
You’ll note, of course, that nowhere on that list is whether a particular candidate happens to be married to a spouse who’s thought to be good-looking. That’s because–believe it or not–the “values” that voters like us have actually don’t condemn beauty. (Just like how, contrary to H.L. Mencken, our Puritan forefathers actually didn’t have anything against having a good time. Actually, Puritan men knew more about romance than my generation ever will. If you don’t believe me, turn off that reality TV show and read some of Jonathan Edwards’ letters to his wife.) In fact, though this might shock some folks, some “values-voting” men actually think their wives are beautiful and see no contradiction between that fact and their values–if anything, the two ideas are complementary. In fact, two such men write for this blog–I’m one of them, and I’ve heard David plead guilty to the same.
You see, what concerns evangelicals like us is not what Mrs. Thompson or any other political spouse looks like. I for one am agnostic on the point–all I know is that Mrs. Mitchell is gorgeous. What we care about is whether candidates join us in affirming the sanctity of marriage and will seek to protect it in the office to which they want us to elect them.
That, you may recall, is the issue
Nancy Mrs. French and I discussed previously as regards Senator Thompson. We said we wanted someone who “evinces some respect for the institution of marriage” and will be “a credible messenger on this point.” If we only wanted someone who’d never been divorced, we certainly wouldn’t revere the memory of President Reagan–and if we were opposed to anyone with a wife who is blonde, looks fairly young, and is often called beautiful, would we really be supporting this guy?
We know that Governor Romney is with us on traditional marriage. We know that Mayor Giuliani is not. And we’re not sure about Senator Thompson–not because of his wife’s “permanent tan and bleached blond hair,” but because of his own troubling statements and because, to our knowledge, he hasn’t taken a clear stance on the issue and wasn’t a leader on it during his time in Congress.
So, there you have it. The New York Times owes Mrs. Thompson an apology–and I better go see what Mrs. Mitchell’s up to.