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Political Moms


Call me slow, but I’ve just realized this mom gig isn’t a big money-maker. So I’m going to become a political consultant – no particular party, no particular race, I’ll just working for anyone who wants to knock on Hillary Clinton. The winning advice I’m selling is to push this point in the campaign: Yo, Hillary, your mom wears Army boots.

Clinton’s a polarizing figure, and people love her or hate her and yadda yadda yadda, but really, with the levels the “discourse” is sinking to, I’m sure I could sell my high-minded idea to someone. Over the weekend her Republican opponent in the New York Senate race said, and I paraphrase here less freely than you’d expect, that Clinton used to be a dog until she got lots of “work” done. The opponent says he was misquoted. He did get a lot of people like me to look closely at his own mug, so in that sense it was a clever thing to say, but it deserves not one byte more of attention, and I’m even shutting my eyes as I type this paragraph.

The more interesting recent attack was from Elizabeth Edwards, wife of former wanna-be vice president, Democrat John Edwards, also a likely future wanna-be president. Edwards said that while she and Clinton both started out as lawyers married to lawyers, Edwards chose a different path that made her happier and “more joyful.” Or in other words, driven career woman versus kidcentric mom. Edwards apologized the next day and said she was misquoted.

And with that, can we please officially declare the mommy wars over? Because the difference Edwards was trying to highlight is more of image than anything else. And if there’s any U.S. voter who’s not aware that Clinton’s image is that of a working mom, rather than, as she put it once, stay-at-home cookie-baker, then that voter is probably not aware enough to find the ballot anyway. And even those voters already have their minds made up about the “proper” role of women.

It’s not so easy to separate moms into stay-at-home versus career. By their focus? By how they divide their time? Edwards worked as a lawyer, although apparently not full-time, and stopped with the birth of her younger kids. Although her not working for salary in an office means she does a lot of charity work. And has written a book. And helped her husband campaign, as Clinton did. In the White House, Clinton was technically a stay-at-home mom for eight years (or perhaps a “trailing spouse,” making the best of her husband’s job relocation). Granted, she did have a hell of a home office, and tried to reform health care instead of the PTA.

It’s hard to think of Edwards as a mother without remembering that she lost a son. That’s a defining, horrible moment in her private path that she’d surely wish on no one, yet it affected her decision to have more children. And it’s a reminder that life is usually too complicated to easily prescribe personal life choices for someone else.

The ostensible point of this finger pointing is to settled on what’s best for the kids. But Chelsea seems to have hit adulthood fine, or at least without any too-public naughtiness. (Compare with those fun-loving Bush twins, daughters of an iconic stay-at-home mom.) We, on-lookers, no the parents, have little idea what’s best for each kid, and we certainly can’t judge each mother’s private level of concern by how much time she devotes to either job, the one at home or the one before the public.

Non-public women’s lives are equally hard to categorize, and how we identify ourselves changes to suit our family and our own needs. Perhaps some of this thinking was behind Edwards’ quick retraction. There’s plenty to criticize Clinton for, but barring a “Mommie Dearest” style memoir from Chelsea, I can’t see anything new to say about her as a working mom.

Share  Posted by Deborah Klosky at 10:02 PM | Permalink

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