Sunday, October 24, 2004

"Real Job" and Knee Jerk Reactionism

I feel bad for Teresa Heinz Kerry. Really, I do. She's been married to politicans for decades, but she doesn't seem to have had experience "in the spotlight" for very long. I guess she should have learned some time during her marriage to Senator Heinz that political people can't be terribly lazy about their words, but I'm willing to give her some slack.

The big problem is chronicled in this article here. (Okay, it's a Style page article rather than a front page article, mostly because the tone is more fun.) In response to a question about how she would be different from Laura Bush as First Lady, Ms. Heinz Kerry responded that she would probably be a different kind of First Lady, seeing as Ms. Bush hasn't "ever had a real job -- I mean, since she's been grown up." Of course, Ms. Heinz Kerry was wrong -- Ms. Bush was a teacher and a librarian for a few years. But also true is the fact that Ms. Bush quit pretty much once she got engaged to George.

Ms. Heinz Kerry, reminded of Ms. Bush's employment history, issued a quick apology, effectively saying, "Hey, sorry, I forgot. She was a teacher. Which is a great profession, and I totally respect that profession." Of course, this was not enough to placate Karen Hughes, who reminds Ms. Heinz Kerry that motherhood is a pretty darn tough profession as it is.

Look, I agree that motherhood is not given its due in American society, and I respect any woman's (or man's) choice to return to the home to raise children if they can afford to. But in this context, come on now. Ms. Heinz Kerry's word choice, as well as her facts, were poor in the first instance. But Ms. Hughes is out of line by not simply accepting the apology at face value and moving on.

First, let's look at the context in which the original question was presented. How would the Office of the First Lady be different under Teresa Heinz Kerry than under Laura Bush? Answer: (translated from the inartful Ms. Heinz Kerry) It would be different because I have more experience outside the home than Ms. Bush does. What's so wrong with this response? A majority of Ms. Bush's adult experience is limited to raising her own children. Yes, it's a tough job, but it does mean that Ms. Heinz Kerry would bring a different set of life experiences to bear upon the Office of the First Lady, no?

Second, this second political exchange seemed calculated for political gain by the Republicans. The first misstatement by Ms. Heinz Kerry deserved a comeuppance, of course. But let's point out that when the Rove and company decided to call Ms. Heinz Kerry on her error, they didn't say "actually, she was a teacher and librarian for a few years and then she became a stay-at-home mother." They pointed out her salary-earning professional history. Seems the Republicans as much as Ms. Heinz Kerry at the time agreed that "real job" does not include "stay-at-home mom." Then when Ms. Heinz Kerry apologized -- incorporating the facts that the Republicans pointed out to her -- suddenly it wasn't enough. If the Republicans wanted so badly to acknowledge the importance of Ms. Bush's job as mother, someone should have brought it up when Ms. Heinz Kerry made her first misstatement.


No comments: