Ladies, first

Never mind the candidates. What about their wives?

Aren’t they lovely: Stepford Bush and the ketchup queen vie for America’s hearts and minds.

Aren’t they lovely: Stepford Bush and the ketchup queen vie for America’s hearts and minds.

Thankfully, California’s presidential race appears to be a done deal, so we’ve been spared the horrors of campaigning. By the time the candidates are done smearing each other, both are about as appealing as Pee-Wee Herman at a children’s birthday party.

This no doubt contributes to our limited field of choice; honestly, P Diddy’s not looking half-bad as a presidential candidate right now. Surely there are better people out there, but who’d want the job? Except maybe Ralph Nader, who only seems to surface every four years, when he’s running for president. What he does in between elections is anybody’s guess, and who exactly are the 3 percent of the voters who support him after seeing the mess it got us into last time? Perhaps we should publish their names in the paper so we can all find out.

But my main concern this election is the first ladies, especially potential first lady Teresa Heinz Kerry. I’m not interested in what John Kerry did more than 30 years ago or, for that matter, who didn’t go to war (does the whole country have collective amnesia about that war?).

Our country has a history of high standards in the first-lady department, and we owe much of this to John Adams’ wife, Abigail, an influential role model who paved the way for wives who followed. A prodigious letter writer, she wrote John long letters while he was away. She kept him informed of British troop movements and counseled him on what type of government we should form and the appropriateness of laws. At the end of one letter, she apologized: “I believe I have tired you with politics.” All the while, she was raising five children.

There’s always been a tacit agreement between the American public and the first lady that she keeps an eye on the president for us, and frankly, Laura Bush just isn’t up to the task.

Her performance at the Republican National Convention, although laudable, still left me unconvinced. There’s that Stepfordesque quality, which was enhanced by the sounds of an elevator version of “Isn’t She Lovely” playing in the background while she walked to the podium. Then there’s that frozen smile and masked veneer, creating a robotic quality that leads me to wonder who’d win in a no-blink contest with Al Gore.

For all the touting she does about education, she doesn’t seem to have a good grasp of history, either. Why else would she throw in the names of Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt as a comparison to her husband? Those presidents don’t come to mind at all. We all know the real similarity is with Lyndon B. Johnson, a man who struggled with his own failed conquest. (Interesting that both were Texans.)

During that heartwarming speech about George agonizing over intelligence reports at the dinner table, she said, “And I was there when my husband had to decide.” Well, this provided the perfect opportunity and just begged for a more proactive response from her. Something along the lines of “What do you mean you’re invading Iraq because you ‘think’ there might be weapons of mass destruction? This sounds a lot like that time you bought those oil fields because you ‘thought’ there might be oil!”

It’s a universal truth that, although a president can ignore his Cabinet and surround himself with “yes men,” the one person who’s supposed to tell him the truth is his wife. It even could be argued that it’s a job requirement.

Getting the president to listen to reason is not a new problem, nor is it confined to any one political party. I remember attending a lecture long ago given by John F. Kennedy’s press secretary, Pierre Salinger, who touched upon this same issue. When they thought Kennedy was getting off the deep end, all they had to do was tell him, “That sounds a lot like something Nixon would do.”

But a spouse is ultimately the most qualified for this kind of responsibility. There was Hillary, who, except for matters of a carnal nature, was tapped into Washington, D.C., and the presidency like nobody’s business.

Nancy Reagan was Ronald’s single most important asset. Who can ever forget Ron looking helpless while some reporter grilled him, and Nancy standing next to him, never missing a beat, before stepping in to tell Ron what to say? And what about all her help running the country by consulting her astrologer?

Barbara Bush—now that’s one tough broad, and scary too. She was even rumored to have gotten those Bush twins under control early on in the administration, with their drinking escapades. No easy feat, given that they’re better suited to driving around with Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie than to the White House. And most recently, she returned from the Olympics, where she accompanied the Bush twins, and remarked later that they “bordered on being dignified at the Olympics.”

For Heinz Kerry, so far so good. She’s intelligent and well-spoken, but that’s not the real test. More telling is that she’s been known to argue with her husband openly, she speaks her mind, and she isn’t averse to mild cussing or telling reporters to shove it when the occasion warrants it. Those are the kind of qualities the American people need in their first lady. And she’s got personality as added value, something her poor husband seems to lack. Come the election, I know she’s got my vote.