On Tuesday night, a devoted wife recalled when her future husband “was still the guy who picked me up for our dates in a car that was so rusted out, I could actually see the pavement going by in a hole in the passenger-side door.”
A week earlier, another devoted wife recalled when early in her marriage “our desk was a door propped up on sawhorses” and “our dining room table was a fold-down ironing board in the kitchen.”
No, those weren't pleas for sympathy from contestants on a revival of “Queen for a Day,” the old radio and later television show that dispensed prizes to women who delivered the most tear-jerking sob stories of material hardship.
Instead, those were assurances from first lady Michelle Obama and Ann Romney, respectively, that their husbands haven't always been so well off financially.
But respectfully, why must spouses of presidential nominees play this silly game?
Who would fill those roles for an unmarried candidate — for instance, Condoleezza Rice or Lindsey Graham?
No White House nominee's wife addressed his party's convention until 1940, when Eleanor Roosevelt pitched her husband's re-election at the Democratic Convention in Chicago. Her husband went on to rout Wendell Wilkie, carrying 38 of the then 48 states.
Trivia time: Who was the next wife of a presidential nominee to give a convention speech? (Answer at column's end)
Speechifying praise from spouses has become conventionally obligatory. That might make sense if an aspiring president were going to let his wife sit in on meetings with his Cabinet, as Jimmy Carter did — though his wife Rosalynn didn't speak at the 1976 or '80 conventions.
But wouldn't it make more sense to leave first ladies (or first gentlemen) out of Cabinet meetings unless they held Cabinet posts — and to drop the increasingly tedious convention rites of wifely tributes to White House nominees?
It would be unfair to blame Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Romney for doing what has become a marital duty in their high-profile political realm.
It was downright unmannerly for Rush Limbaugh to tell his vast radio audience of Mrs. Obama's speech Wednesday: “It could not have been better in terms of performance. But it was all lies. She didn't believe any of it.”
It was unworthy of analyst Juan Williams to tell Fox News' vast audience a week earlier that during Mrs. Romney's speech, she “looked to me like a corporate wife,” adding: “And you know the stories she told about struggle, eh, it's hard for me to believe. She's a very rich woman, and I know that and America knows that.”
She's also a woman who has multiple sclerosis and had breast cancer.
And if we must find more poor folks to run for high office, why not recruit candidates at homeless shelters?
Back to family-related convention speeches: Why not work siblings into the act? After all, Roger Clinton delivered a stunning rendition of the Sam Cooke classic “A Change Is Gonna Come” at brother Bill's 1993 inauguration bash.
And Billy Carter was always good for a few laughs.
Parents are already occasionally drafted into campaigns. Paul Ryan even took his 78-year-old mom to Florida a month ago to vouch for him against dubious Democratic charges that he wants to “voucherize” Medicare.
Then again, why confine family-related speeches about a presidential nominee to the one from your party? What if the other side's candidate has a grudge-holding ex-spouse?
Nah, Jenny Sanford wouldn't fit in at a Democratic convention.
The late Jane Wyman was Mrs. Ronald Reagan from 1940-48. According to the Reagan biography “Dutch” by Edmund Morris, Wyman whispered to a friend at a Hollywood party where her husband was carrying on about the Red Menace: “I'm so bored with him, I'll either kill him or kill myself.”
Yet in 1968, two years after Reagan won his first of two terms as California's governor, Wyman took this high road: “It's bad taste to talk about ex-husbands and ex-wives, that's all. Also, I don't know a damn thing about politics.”
Neither, unfortunately, do many Americans who base presidential votes on what spouses say about the candidates.
Meanwhile, though, if you're looking for a once-married 2016 presidential candidate from this state:
My wife can confirm that I was still driving a 1968 Opel Kadett, a hand-me-down from my sister, after it no longer even had a passenger-side door.
Trivia answer: Pat Nixon gave a speech at the 1972 Republican Convention in Miami, becoming the second wife of a presidential nominee to do so. Her husband went on to carry 49 states in a landslide over George McGovern.
Frank Wooten is assistant editor of The Post and Courier. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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