Women have to play politics on all the levels of men, plus they have to put up with people talking about how they look while they’re doing it. It’s not fair, but it’s the way the world works. If you’re going to do a human interest story on a female candidate or the wife of a candidate, then chances are, we’re going to be talking about appearances. It’s nothing that has budged, even infinitesimally, in the recent past.
I remember during the 2004 election, when once-frontrunner Vermont Governor Howard Dean was pilloried because he didn’t dutifully trot out his wife to do the requisite media appearances to slake our thirst of being able to judge his better half. The reason didn’t matter, but, to this day, I bet you probably can’t conjure up an image of Howard Dean’s wife. And there’s a reason for it. Dr. Judith Goldberg didn’t want to leave her medical practice to pursue what she regarded as a waste of time. She was later borne out. But at the time, the media wanted, desperately even, to get this woman out front and center to take a gander. The more they couldn’t have her, the more they wanted her.
And so it goes with Ann Romney. This article on her in the New York Times does the regular going over in terms of style and wardrobe. It recycles a lot of themes that we saw in ’08 with Michele Obama, namely a lot of the J.Crew parallels. But, fundamentally, it misses the point of what Ann Romney brings to the equation when it comes to her husband. It’s not that she dresses like pretty much every other upper class woman I’ve ever run across. It’s that she does something that noone, not even Mitt himself is capable of: she humanizes him. That’s the real story with Ann Romney.
Watching her appear with him, she actually makes him appear somewhat natural. That staccato, machinelike laugh of his comes down a few tones and actually assumes a bit of genuine mirth. He relaxes (as much as he can) and doesn’t come across so much like your asshole boss.
But, this being the Times, and the media culture in which we live, let’s not go over the assets that Ann Romney brings to her husband’s otherwise boring and predictable campaign. Let’s not talk about how she could otherwise liven up what is likely to be a cross between a mud fight and a snooze fest. Let’s talk about what the woman’s going to wear, because, in the eyes of the media, that’s where the real story is.