The Strange Lives of Political Wives
Long hours, no credit, no pay, lots of criticism. Can you think of a worse job?
May 31, 2009 - 12:27 am
Meg met and married her husband while he was an undergrad student at Harvard, where he had a reputation for being an “arch right-winger.” This is what the Harvard Crimson said of Wasinger:
Wasinger himself would never be mistaken for a member of any Nixonian silent majority.
“Rob thrives on confrontation, on the thrill of the fight,” says his friend Brown. “Rob likes to get it out there in print.”
Another friend, Thomas E. Woods ’94, attests to Wasinger’s fame — or infamy — by saying, “I got my reputation as the guy who hangs around Rob Wasinger.”
The campus press has paid attention, as have the national media, drawn by his strident, eminently quotable rhetoric.
For example, Wasinger calls the pro-choice movement “a culture of death that seeks to destroy life at every conceivable opportunity.”
When I asked Meg if her husband still had that fire or if he’d mellowed, she said: “In a place like Harvard where it’s so ultra-liberal, the atmosphere at the time at college was very intense. He’s a little more tempered and more reserved in his old age.” It is clear, though, that her husband’s political activism started when they were both college students and she was aware of his ambitions.
We talked about women in politics and the mixed messages that are sent. Men, I noted, aren’t criticized for leaving their children behind as politicians, but women face a double standard. She said of Sarah Palin: “Some people are just called to do more. She clearly had a special calling. There are plenty of women who played important parts and that is where God wanted them to be. Sarah Palin had such a supportive husband. When you have older children, it is really a self-sustaining operation.”
Meg mentioned that she has always had something on the side to keep her active. While in Washington, D.C., she decided to get her real estate license. “I didn’t try to be something I wasn’t. Everyone knew I was a mother with a large family,” she said of showing homes with a baby on her hip.
When I asked her what would happen if her husband were to be knocked out of the primary race, she said: “It’s not even an option. We don’t have contingency plans. I just haven’t thought of it.”
We discussed how life would be should her husband win the congressional seat. She reflected on his schedule when he was Brownback’s chief of staff and said he would be “gone before the kids woke up and home after the kids got home” when the Senate was in session but they “haven’t really talked about the logistics” of how they’d handle daily life should he win the election. I noted that it’s a sacrifice and she said: “It’s no doubt service. There are definitely sacrifices that can be made.” She added: “It’s what Rob is really good at. It’s his gift so we’ll make it work.” And she wanted it to be known that her family is involved in politics and that they plan to campaign together as a family.
The Wasingers’ plan to campaign together reminded me of Sarah Palin’s 8-year-old daughter, all sweetness and innocence and sheltered from the venom being spewed about her family. Politics seems a little like being a Hollywood child actor — surreal, pressured, and scrutinized. It rarely seems to turn out well. And yet America needs the Sarah Palins of the world.
How will America survive if good people don’t run for office? When decent people forgo politics because they see how public servants are personally destroyed, there seems little incentive to jump into the shark-infested waters. Conservatives, especially, must worry about this. Over the last decade the press has shed any objective pretense and made it its mission to destroy conservative politicians, especially those who are most outspoken and idealistic. It gives rational people pause.
And so the political world may end up being inhabited by guys like Arlen Specter and Bill Clinton, self-serving miscreants who abuse their calling. They are bought and paid for by interests and are far removed from those who vote them into office. And behind these men stand women who facilitate their journey.
Jackie Kennedy could arguably be the most famous presidential wife. She had this to say: “Now, I think that I should have known that he was magic all along. I did know it — but I should have guessed that it would be too much to ask to grow old with and see our children grow up together. So now, he is a legend when he would have preferred to be a man.”
It seems that too many politicians would prefer to be legends rather than men. It is the rare person who can hold that power and hang on to his humanity. And behind that man — or legend as he may view himself — stands a woman. And that woman finds herself in the strange situation of building the legend while living with the man. It seems a most unenviable position.