Michelle Obama said this yesterday in Milwaukee:
For the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country, and not just because Barack has done well, but because I think people are hungry for change.
It is a deeply troubling statement if she meant it. Given her status of privilege, wealth, and elite education, this is a galling hypocrisy. It also hints at the ugly pall of identity politics: if the only reason to be proud of America is that a black man has gotten this far in a presidential election, this shows that Obama's candidacy is about nothing but race after all. What else could Michelle Obama have meant? That the only reason to be proud of America is that a radical leftist has gotten this far? We already crossed that bridge in the last election with John Kerry, so that can't be it. Did she mean that finally we have a candidate of hope, change and all things shiny and bright? In that case, she doesn't have an unhealthy obsession with race, she is merely fatuous.
Should she merely be a demure and soft-spoken doll like Laura Bush? In a word: yes. There is no upside in having the spouse speaking for the candidate, and plenty of downside. They invariably make mistakes and only compound the candidate's problems. Remember Theresa Heinz-Kerry? Enough said.
Bill Clinton is of course a far more problematic spouse. He could have been the exception to the rule that the spouse offers no upside, but he had no idea how to achieve that. Bill Clinton sure looks and acts a lot differently when he doesn't have a phalanx of consultants and spin doctors throwing rose petals in his path. Bill Clinton unplugged has been a delightful embarassment, and an education for Democrats who mistook the image for the man himself.
It didn't have to be this way. Bill Clinton could have been a devastating campaign weapon for Hillary. He could have played up his rock star status to counter Obama's. He should have been regal, sitting on his throne and mastering all he surveys. But no, he succumbed to whiny bickering with reporters over trifles. He showed us what a little man he was all along.
So the bottom line on candidate spouses is, less is more.