January 9, 2012

(First) Ladies in Waiting

It’s customary for the U.S. first lady to be portrayed as a “lady in waiting.”  At a recent holiday photo event, Michelle Obama kept her distance from public policy discussion, waiting for her husband as he conferred with his assistant for legislative affairs. By now she is well aware that a presidential spouse’s job (ostensibly) is to wait patiently in the background while the president conducts affairs of state, but in this photo Mrs. Obama also invokes the mood of some in the Democratic base as well—waiting for the president to take action.

Obama could probably offer tips to the spouses of Republican presidential hopefuls—most of whom wait for the White House like the characters from Samuel Beckett’s play waited for Godot.  Callista Gingrich was spotted shortly before the Iowa Caucus sporting the requisite “adoring gaze” as she watched Newt prepare for an interview in an Iowa pub.

The stalwart support of his (most recent) wife was not enough to boost Newt’s performance in Iowa. Although this image of Newt is fairly mundane campaign trail fodder, it does reveal the persistence of gender norms in presidential campaigns. In addition to his loving (younger, blonder) wife, Newt is flanked by the cartoonish image of the barmaid, serving up a round of drinks to weary (wary?) voters. After Newt’s performance in Iowa, he probably needed one!

Mary Kaye Huntsman’s quizzical expression ironically sums up the reaction that many people have to Huntsman’s candidacy. Why is he still talking? Like a good political spouse, however, she waits.

Meanwhile, U.S. voters are waiting for a candidate they could get excited about voting for. That is likely to be the longest wait of all.

— Karrin Anderson

(photo 1: Pete Souza / The White House via WAPO. caption: Dec. 15, 2011  “Interrupting a Christmas holiday photo line, the president confers with Rob Nabors, assistant to the president for legislative affairs, about the latest developments in the payroll tax cut extension as the first lady waits in the background.”  photo 2: Andrew Burton/Getty Images. caption: JANUARY 01: Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich waits to begin a live broadcast interview as his wife Callista Gingrich looks on at West Towne Pub on January 1, 2012 in Ames, Iowa. The GOP presidential contenders are crisscrossing Iowa in the final stretch of campaigning in the state before the caucus on January 3, the first test the candidates must face before becoming the Republican presidential nominee. photo 3: Alex Wong/Getty Images. caption: JANUARY 05: Republican presidential hopeful and former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman (L) answers questions from reporters as his wife Mary Kaye (R) looks on from inside their vehicle after he spoke to local business owners at a business lunch January 5, 2012 in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Huntsman, who skipped the Iowa caucuses on Tuesday, continued to campaign for the upcoming, first in the nation primary election in New Hampshire.)

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Karrin Anderson
See other posts by Karrin here.

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