One overlooked aspect of Scott Brown’s campaign strategy is the absence of his wife—Gail Huff, a general assignment reporter for Boston’s WCVB-TV, an ABC affiliate—on the campaign trail. While the primary motivation may have been avoiding potential conflicts of interest arising from her job, the fact that Brown did not use the little woman as a campaign prop is refreshing and I hope trend-setting. Voters after all elect the candidate, not the spouse. Elections are not two-for-one specials.
Wives play a weirdly distorted role in their husband’s political careers. More so, I think, than the husbands of female candidates, the obvious exception duly noted. Voters, we are led to believe, obsess about the political wife’s wardrobe, how she wears her hair, her favorite recipes, her intelligence vis-a-vis the candidate’s. The foregoing might be interesting, but important? Relevant? I don’t think so. I suppose for a candidate with little or no platform, or whose grasp of the issues is flaccid, the distraction of a burning home fire might be a welcome one, but for the most part I think the attention paid to a candidate’s wife is diversionary as well as a vestige of pre-feminist, sexist reportage. The truth is voters don’t care—as evidenced by Brown’s decisive win despite his wife’s disappearing act—about the height of the heels a candidate’s wife wears, or the color of her latest nail varnish, even though we are routinely treated to these breaking developments as if they were substantive to the election.
On the other hand, the trouble a candidate’s wife’s words can conjure for her husband is the stuff a reporter’s dreams are made of, even though these gaffes reveal nothing about the candidate’s ability to govern or legislate. A few samples to refresh your memory:
Nancy “I Have a Little Gun” Reagan
Barbara “It Rhymes with Witch” Bush
Teresa “Now Shove It” Kerry
Michelle “[America is] Just Downright Mean” Obama
Indeed, sometimes Candidate A’s wife is an asset to Candidate B’s campaign. Did anybody, besides Teresa, think, for example, that Ms. Heinz-Kerry’s pronoucements were helping her husband’s dismal campaign? Even though some of her statements, I confess, were unforgettable, as when she confided to People magazine in an election-year interview that the husband prior to Senator Kerry was “the love of my life.”
Brown’s run ought to have political strategists re-evaluating the merits of a wife’s role in a husband’s campaign. The voters of Massachusetts were not afforded the opportunity to be distracted by Gail Huff’s wardrobe; the voters of Massachusetts did not have their attention on the candidate derailed by ambush stories on a slip of the tongue Huff might (or might not) have made. I say “Bravo/Brava” to Brown/Huff, for bringing campaigning into the 21st Century by respecting Huff’s right to be her own person and by respecting the voter’s right to focus on the person actually running for office.