The Washington Post

Sorry, but Ann Romney and Michelle Obama are totally fair game

Ann Romney uses her hand as a Michigan "map" while making a speech during a campaign stop at Bavarian Inn Lodge on June 19 in Frankenmuth, Mich. (Jeff Schrier/AP)

President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, look up at themselves on the large in-house video screen for the "Kiss Cam", while watching the first half of Team USA and Brazil in an Olympic men's exhibition basketball game Monday, July 16, 2012, in Washington. (Alex Brandon/AP)

Still, I see nothing the least bit objectionable about the Democratic National Committee ad that featured old Rafalca prancing around, alongside clips of Mitt Romney hemming and hawing about releasing his tax returns. “Do we really want a president who dances around the issues?’’ it asked.

By current standards – what, no Hitler or bin Laden? – the commercial was downright civilized. Yet it was taken down after complaints that it constituted an unseemly attack on Mrs. Romney, who was not seen or mentioned in the ad.

“Shame on them, really,” said former Minnesota governor and possible Romney vice-presidential pick Tim Pawlenty, who had not actually seen it, but nevertheless pronounced it “really, really low.”

It was? I’ve routinely defended women in politics, spouses included, of course, from unfair attacks — from racist “jokes” involving Michelle Obama to trivial slams on Ann Romney’s designer T-shirt. But spouses are full partners in the current campaigns, strategically and every other way, just as they ought to be.

And at some point – right now would be my preference – we’ve got to stop pretending that they are by definition off-limits, or ought to be.

Ann Romney with her horse Super Hit in 2006. (Terri Miller)

Ann Romney, meanwhile, is raising money and giving a series of high-profile interviews — answering questions about possible veep choices by saying “we” haven’t made any decision yet.

These women are leading the charge, not sitting home asking how it went, and as they stand on stage, microphones in hand, it’s absurd and even infantilizing to claim that they should be left alone.

Unlike their children, they signed up for this, or so we’ve been told. Politics is a family business; those involved in it can’t have it both ways. And while we’re updating to catch up with reality, can we please retire the tired formulation that any political wife is her husband’s “secret weapon”?

In this July 4, 2012 photo, Craig Romney, left, Matt Romney, center, and Josh Romney, right, sons of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, stand with other family members at Brewster Academy during a rally at the end of the Fourth of July Parade in Wolfeboro, N.H. (Charles Dharapak/AP)

The horseplay was nothing to apologize for; they certainly weren’t referencing Mrs. Romney’s M.S. Nor was there anything wrong with Romney invoking the wife of ’04 Democratic nominee John Kerry recently:

“John Kerry ran for president; you know, his wife, who has hundreds of millions of dollars -- she never released her tax returns,” Romney told Fox News. “Somehow, this wasn’t an issue.” Sure it was. It also wasn't quite the same, because Teresa Heinz Kerry wasn’t the candidate. But I have every confidence that the senator’s wife, who really did take a lot of heat during his presidential run, is holding up admirably under the pressure.

First lady Michelle Obama speaks to supporters during a campaign event for her husband, President Barack Obama at the University of Central Florida, Tuesday, July 10, 2012, in Orlando, Fla. (John Raoux/AP)

“We give 10 percent of our income to our church every year,’’ she said, exactly like the full financial partner she is. “Do you think that’s the kind of person that’s tried to hide things? No, he is so good about it.’’

I wish Roberts had asked just what it is he’s so good about. But she did ask why, then, Romney isn’t just coughing up the returns, like any number of his fellow Republicans have done and have urged him to do.

“We’ve given all [garble] people need to know and understand about our financial situation and about how we live our life,’’ Ann Romney said.

On Friday, ABC listened to its own audio and ruled that Mrs. Romney had not said “you people” but “our people.” And for the misquote, unlike the other silliness, she does deserve an apology.

Melinda Henneberger is a Post politics writer with a second major in French. Her sister did dressage at boarding school, which she’s telling everyone in hopes of passing herself off as elite.

Melinda Henneberger has been writing about politics and culture for the Washington Post since 2011.



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