Pity the poor political spouse. First we have John Zaccaro, who married a woman who went into politics. The next thing you know she gets nominated to run for vice president and every news organization in the country sets reporters loose on his finances. Whatever shred of privacy he may have had is out the window.
Then, we have him telling Redbook magazine that if his wife is elected, he wants to sit in on cabinet meetings.
"Gerry always wants me around; she has always made me a part of whatever she is doing . . . I want to know what's going on." Now this is a remark certain to send a shudder down the spine of every voter in the country. Who's going to be vice president, here: John or Gerry?
Of course, Zaccaro notes that he won't be available for cabinet consultations most of the time since he'll be in New York on weekdays. Let us all breathe a sigh of relief. He and his wife the vice president can chat up the nation's business on the phone and avoid an awkward situation.
Zaccaro doesn't have a monopoly on unfortunate remarks. Barbara Bush, on the same day the Redbook remark entered the political picture, made one of her own. Actually, two or three unfortunate remarks. She told two reporters aboard Air Force Two that she and her husband enjoyed living well and don't pretend to be poor "like that $4 million -- I can't say it, but it rhymes with rich."
Later, she compounded the faux-pas by claiming she didn't mean to call Geraldine A. Ferraro a "witch." Rich witch? A new term of derogation is born.
To her credit, Mrs. Bush hastily called Ferraro with an apology, but then, whatever else on earth could she do. And while it is nice to know that America's Second Couple enjoys the good life, this is not the best election year for the Republicans to be flaunting their comforts.
To be fair, however, Mrs. Bush enjoys the reputation of being a very nice person. What these remarks show, however, is the kind of pressure a political campaign puts on a politician's spouse. Every word they utter except in the bedroom -- and even then if their spouse gets blabby -- and every financial deal they cook up is going to be reported in the media and dissected by the electorate. What they say is a reflection on the politician, it is news because it tells us what kind of people they are, and there is simply no way around that.
Zaccaro, a man who is obviously tough and shrewd enough to survive in the shark-infested waters of New York real-estate, says something perfectly foolish and it hurts his wife's campaign. Barbara Bush says something uncharacteristically catty and it hardly uplifts her husband's campaign.
The political spouse isn't paid, he or she often isn't experienced in campaigning and in the era of male spouses it's a safe bet that many don't realize their business dealings will have to be an open book. But the fact is that they give up their privacy.
It would be nice, of course, if the public and the media could reach an agreement that the spouses are independent creatures and the rantings of one should not affect the public's perceptions of the other, who is after all, presumably the person who is going to be handling the nation's affairs.
That's unrealistic, however, since politicians are forever telling us that their spouses are their most important and closest advisers.
It is a well-known fact, for example, that Nancy Reagan is the most powerful woman in the White House. And it is also a well-known fact that Nancy Reagan's fondness for expensive clothes and china brought the fairness issue right into the coffee klatches of America like no quanity of statistics ever could.
Prospective politicians could protect themselves against trouble by making sure they select spouses who are blessed with enough good sense to watch what they say at all times.
But then who could expect politicians to be more astute than the rest of us in the business of selecting a mate?
The stakes are higher in political marriages than in private ones, where an occasional cocktail party transgression is usually forgiven by the next day.
And, to make matters worse, the political spouse certainly can't blame a faux-pas on demon rum.
Barbara Bush, a veteran of national campaigns who probably ought to know better than to breathe such a thought to anyone except her spouse, explained the incident by saying she thought her remarks were off the record.
Zaccaro will learn. He's in a no-win situation. The best way out when these things happen is to deny everything. And then blame the media.