September 23, 2004


Female Trouble: While fretting about Karl Rove, the Democrats overlooked Karen Hughes. How she—and Laura Bush—are winning the election for W. (Naomi Wolf, New York Magazine)

Should wives matter in a presidential campaign? Is it trivial to weigh Laura Bush’s gentle, Xanax-like demeanor, her faultless librarian’s poise and sincerity, against the imperious sexuality of Teresa Heinz Kerry? [...]

While Bush Inc. is flooding women’s magazines with features in which Laura Bush gets out a family-friendly feminist message, Kerry et al. remain obsessed with sending white men out onto the Sunday talk shows—which women don’t watch. While Bush Inc. understands the power of the vivid visual image—dressing the entire GOP convention, for instance, in matching tangerine and turquoise, color-coordinating the Cheney grandchildren to give a visual sense of order and unity—the Democrats keep being bumped to the inside pages because they send out their candidate and his wife in neutrals. I am convinced that Michael Deaver is the invisible hand behind the calculated visuals of the Bush campaign—the signature use of deep, majestic backdrops behind the candidate, the use of jewel tones on Laura Bush and other women associated with the administration, the trick of forcing photographers to sit close to the stage so that they must shoot sharply upward, showing the candidate from a heroic angle. By contrast, the Democrats ignore them, losing women, who are simply too busy racing to get school lunches ready and kids out the door to get their impressions about the candidates from Meet the Press.

The low value Kerry’s team is assigning to both the visual story of the campaign and the role of gender imagery explains his drop in the polls after the GOP convention. Contrary to RNC spin about “earth tones” and “alpha males,” I was actually an adviser on women’s issues for the Gore campaign. But any cultural critic can tell you that a presidential campaign involves powerful gender archetypes, and presidents are archetypes of male potency. Republicans guided by Deaver understand this: It’s why you saw Ronald Reagan posed by a horse holding a riding crop, or W. in flight gear. And spouses play a massive role in enhancing or undermining the potency of a male candidate.

So Laura Bush, in speaking warmly of her mate’s “wrestling” with issues of war and peace, enhances his potency. This does not contradict my earlier point about appealing to swing voters; it has been well established that modern women maddeningly long for men who are tender in private but authoritative in public. Unfortunately, Teresa Heinz Kerry’s speech, which all but ignored her husband, did more to emasculate him than the opposition ever could. By publicly shining the light on herself rather than her husband, she opened a symbolic breach in Kerry’s archetypal armor. Listen to what the Republicans are hitting Kerry with: Indecisive. Effete. French. They are all but calling this tall, accomplished war hero gay.

The charges are sticking because of Teresa Heinz Kerry. Let’s start with “Heinz.” By retaining her dead husband’s name—there is no genteel way to put this—she is publicly, subliminally cuckolding Kerry with the power of another man—a dead Republican man, at that. Add to that the fact that her first husband was (as she is herself now) vastly more wealthy than her second husband. Throw into all of this her penchant for black, a color that no woman wears in the heartland, and you have a recipe for just what Kerry is struggling with now: charges of elitism, unstable family relationships, and an unmanned candidate.

A generally perceptive piece, but note the sneering dismissal of the well-balanced Laura Bush as some kind of drugged-out Stepford Wife? If you were betting on which first wife is medicated would she be your first choice?

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 23, 2004 1:41 PM

"cuckolding Kerry with the power of another man"

This Naomi Wolfe is certainly a sweet girl, isn't she? You would have thought that Kerry's campaign machine with a cast of thousands would find a slot for Naomi for no other reason than to shut her up.

Posted by: h-man at September 23, 2004 1:57 PM

Naomi forgot to mention W's affectionate pats on Laura's behind. That's got to drive her crazy (crazier?).

Posted by: Melissa at September 23, 2004 1:59 PM

I don't care what Naomi Wolfe says about her, I have a big crush on Laura Bush. And for precisely the same reasons why Ms. Wolfe says I should hate her.

Posted by: Governor Breck at September 23, 2004 2:14 PM

Living off a dead-man's estate is probably one
that sends a certain message to women. His
lavish lifestyle (utterly unafordable with his
own means) does not help.

Inheriting money from "daddy" is one thing...

Posted by: J.H. at September 23, 2004 2:58 PM, a color that no woman wears in the heartland...

What the hell is she talking about? Has she ever even been to "the heartland?"

Posted by: Brandon at September 23, 2004 3:01 PM

I don't think Teresa displays "imperious sexuality" so much as appearing to be imperially bonkers...

Posted by: brian at September 23, 2004 3:12 PM

"Imperially Bonkers..."

Like naming your horse to the Senate?

Posted by: Ken at September 23, 2004 3:51 PM


Well, JFK might just be Teresa's stud.

Posted by: jim hamlen at September 23, 2004 4:02 PM

Gah. Must... prevent... mental images from the 'imperious sexuality' line...

Posted by: mike earl at September 23, 2004 4:03 PM

Which one is medicated? I'll pass. But which one needs to be? That's a no-brainer.

Posted by: Francis W. Porretto at September 23, 2004 5:02 PM

Mr. Porretto;

I'm waiting for Mr. Judd to present evidence that Heinz isn't already medicated.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at September 23, 2004 6:43 PM

Is Botox a medication?

Posted by: James Haney at September 23, 2004 9:40 PM


In flyover country, black is for evening wear and kids' Goth subculture.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at September 24, 2004 3:07 PM

I do not like Laura Bush; I looove Laura Bush! In 2004, I voted for Al Gore ( I repented for my sin)and refused to vote for George Bush (he gradually won me over), but if push comes to shove, it would be his wife I would vote for. GO Bush!

Posted by: Charles Butler at October 1, 2004 1:22 AM