The Jeri News Cycle
Mary Katharine Ham
10/18/2007 12:05:00 PM - Mary Katharine Ham
Listen, Jeri is news. Of that there is no doubt.
The prevailing media stereotypes/media narrative about her are as follows:
A) Dim but beautiful trophy wife who landed a U.S. Senator based on a combo of looks, charm and determination, but finds herself operating outside of her depth when her social climber gene pushes her to push him into a presidential run.
B) Shrewd, single-minded, overbearing social climber who landed a U.S. Senator based on a combo of looks, silky charm, and sheer doggedness, who finds that her down-home manners aren't enough to overcome the fact that Washington circles, big donors, and the press don't take kindly to Pat Conroy's Machiavellian mother figure when her insatiable ambition leads her to push her man into a presidential campaign and then run every detail of it.
Wow, she's really not starting from a great place, here, and her hubby's only been in the race for a month or two. Both stereotypes are almost wholly negative-- the first prone to make women dislike her, the second prone to make men dislike her. The idea that she's a smart former lobbyist, loving mother of two, and a woman who happened to be cool enough for a legendary bachelor to settle down with is considered "fluff" and "spin," when that precise positive narrative is a given
for every other would-be first lady.
We don't generally start off with such wholly formed bad-faith assumptions about the wives of candidates. Suspicions sometimes, yes, but the full-on reportage of Jeri's every move through the prism of these two stereotypes is not giving the wife of a candidate (who's not even the nominee yet
) the courtesy she deserves.
These narratives had been formed long before Fred was even in the race. Now, one could argue that she's partly for blame for not introducing herself more quickly, but one could also argue that the wife of a man who's not even in the presidential race yet
should not have cause to get out front in defending herself against character attacks.
Could it be that these narratives affect some of the intermittent negative reports we hear from Jeri's appearances, such as the ones Matt notes today
? After all, "working the room" and demanding "ebullience" from the crowd both play into Stereotype B-- overbearing, smart, beautiful schemer-- the one more prone to make men dislike her. And, these reports came from, as Matt points out,
only men. As for the idea that women are likely to be more catty toward her than men, I don't know. I'm not making any judgments about what the average man's opinion of her is, but I know that conservative women
have been some of the loudest in defending Jeri against attacks
. (And, for the record, I was more forgiving of Scarborough's "context defense"
when he committed his Jeri gaffe than some other folks, but I thought he should act like an adult and treat her with more respect; I just didn't think he was actually calling her a stripper.)
I would bet I could easily find three or more folks who were in the room at the Club for Growth event who really enjoyed Jeri's company. If I may play into my own stereotype for a moment, it's hard for me to imagine a Southern-bred woman of her success forgetting her manners on too many occasions (Update:
As mentioned in comments, Jeri spent her college years and 20s in Tennessee, but her hometown is in Illinois, so she's not a native Southerner. I corrected the post to reflect that. My bad.) I was at the Fred speech yesterday and found her totally unobtrusive. I was also at Fred's speech to Virginia Americans for Prosperity members two weeks ago, during which she happily chatted with little old ladies and took cards from every Tom, Dick, and Harry who approached her, looking very at-ease and willing to engage with folks from whom she'd have much less to gain than the average millionaire.
I know she's news, but let's give her a little benefit of the doubt sometimes. She's on our side; she's the wife of a candidate, not a candidate; she'll get plenty of picking from the Left without us helping out.
Does it mean we can't discuss her at all? No, but it does mean anonymous reports from a handful of people should be taken with some serious sodium supplements.