This is not a book review column, but I have read a book that justifies more national comment than it has yet received. "Rating the First Ladies" (Citadel Press, 2003) by John B. Roberts II, is an absorbing book that accomplishes something never before attempted: assessing, in one book, the explicitly political contributions of each of the 37 first ladies to the presidents of the United States -- from Martha Washington to Laura Bush. Of course there have been many books that describe the social duties of first ladies. But by focusing on their political contributions (or lack thereof), Roberts has painted fascinating parallel histories of both presidential politics and the evolving role of women in America. Although I like to think that I am reasonably well read on America's political history, I learned something interesting, often revelatory, about those histories on almost every page.
While the scholarship of the book is impeccable, I found value in the book because of the sophisticated political insights of the author, who has been a major behind-the-scenes political operative in Washington's presidential politics since the early 1980s. Roberts was a senior member of Ronald Reagan's political office in the White House and in his re-election campaign. He was also a senior strategist in the Republican Congressional campaigns of the 1990s. (Disclaimer: I know the author well from my political years with President Reagan and Newt Gingrich.) The readers get the same astute analysis from Roberts that President Reagan received from him. Imagine reading a hard-eyed Robert Novak column ripping into President Grant's crooked first lady Julia Dent Grant, and you will have some sense of how these chapters can read -- when the first ladies deserve it. Roberts is very smart.
Blankley, who had been suffering from stomach cancer, died Saturday night at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, his wife, Lynda Davis, said Sunday.
In his long career as a political operative and pundit, his most visible role was as a spokesman for and adviser to Gingrich from 1990 to 1997. Gingrich became House Speaker when Republicans took control of the U.S. House of Representatives following the 1994 midterm elections.