Every four years the nation picks not only a president, but also a first lady. Or, I might say, the first lady picks our president.
It was first lady Florence Harding, wife of President Warren G. Harding, who bluntly expressed her power: “I know what’s best for the president. I put him in the White House. He does well when he listens to me, and poorly when he does not.”
For a long time, first ladies were known for their "quiet power." But the public power of the nation's most prominent spouse is becoming more evident. When deciding our presidential pick, voters would be wise to scrutinize the first lady "candidates" — in this case Ann Romney and Michelle Obama. How about a first lady presidential debate?
This past summer I read a fascinating book, “Mrs. Kennedy and Me
,” written by Clint Hill, a former Secret Service agent who headed Jackie Kennedy’s protective detail during her husband’s presidency.
Hill is famous as the prominent agent in John F. Kennedy’s motorcade at the time of his assassination in Dallas. After Kennedy was shot, Hill ran from the car immediately behind the presidential limousine and leapt onto the back of it, placing his body above JFK and Jackie as the car raced to Parkland Memorial Hospital — an action documented in the Zapruder film.
Hill's book is a personal, close-up history by a participant, detailing the struggles of the first family including constant public scrutiny, and particularly the challenges facing the first lady — and yes, the hardships the family must bear.
Hill paints a portrait of Jackie as a deeply considerate woman of great integrity, one who also shunned the public spotlight when possible. Jackie, when not traveling, spent much of JFK’s presidency with her young children at the Kennedy horse farm in Middleburg, Va.; the Kennedy mansion in Palm Beach, Fla.; and the family’s compound in Hyannis Port, Mass.
Still, she remained a star with the public. In June 1962, after JFK and Jackie visited Paris and were greeted by throngs of Jackie admirers, the president quipped at an official dinner, “I am the man who accompanied Jacqueline Kennedy to Paris, and I have enjoyed it.”
As first lady, Jackie used her prestige as the nation's goodwill ambassador abroad. For example, she traveled alone with her Secret Service agents on a 17-day trip to India and Pakistan. In Washington, she focused on redecorating and restoring the White House.
Perhaps the most amazing passage in Hill’s book, one that offers insight into the true character and patriotism of Jackie, recalls the events surrounding the Cuban missile crisis in October 1962.
The president revealed during a televised address to the nation that the Soviet Union had placed nuclear missiles on launching pads in the communist nation of Cuba.
There was a real possibility of nuclear war, and Hill was charged with telling the first lady she might be required, “if the situation develops,” to take her children to the bomb shelter under the White House.
Hill writes: “Before I could explain any further, she pulled away from me, in what only can be described as defiance, and said, ‘Mr. Hill, if the situation develops that required the children and me to go to the shelter, let me tell you what you can expect.”
Jackie’s personality changed as she lowered her voice, “looked him straight in the eye,” and with “utter conviction” said: “If the situation develops, I will take Caroline and John, and we will walk hand-in-hand out onto the south grounds. We will stand there like brave soldiers and face the fate of every other American.”
This November I would like to elect a first couple with similar character — Ann and Mitt Romney.
Ann has remained Mitt’s most trusted ally throughout his business and political careers, even while raising five boys and struggling with multiple sclerosis and breast cancer.
A tireless campaigner on behalf of children’s charities, Ann came to the fore delivering a rousing speech at this year’s Republican National Convention, showing an admiring nation that it is indeed possible to raise a large family and be a success at the same time.
The choice in November is not between Ann Romney and Michelle Obama. They are only part of the package — but an important part. As Bill Clinton said during the 1992 presidential campaign, by electing him “you get two for the price of one,” referring to Hillary.
Admittedly, Michelle Obama has done a wonderful job as first lady, advocating on behalf of military families, visiting soup kitchens and homeless shelters, and fostering healthy eating habits in a campaign against childhood obesity.
Still, the choice is clear between the two couples and the two starkly different visions for America they hold. The Obamas want more government, more taxes, more anti-business rhetoric, and more gridlock in Washington.
The Romneys have lived an American life, emblematic of the country they want, one that promotes free enterprise and public service. They want to bring to Washington fiscal responsibility, sane energy policies, and economic programs that promote job creation.
So my vote is for the team of Ann and Mitt over Michelle and Barack.
Christopher Ruddy is CEO and editor of Newsmax Media Inc. Read more Christopher Ruddy Insider articles — Click Here Now.
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