Posts Tagged ‘Cindy McCain’

By Gil Troy, HNN, 10-24-08

Where is Michelle Obama? Since the Democratic nominee’s wife delivered her warm, charming, effective address at the Democratic National Convention, she has remained remarkably low profile. The Obama campaign has used her sparingly and – to the Democrats’ good fortune – she has triggered no controversy. This quiet is a remarkable contrast to the tumult that surrounded her during Barack Obama’s primary campaign. It reflects some of the particular dynamics surrounding the Obama partnership in private and in public. But Michelle Obama’s demeanor also reflects the broader strategy in the Democratic campaign this fall. If Barack Obama wins on November 4, it will feel more like a victory by default than a sweeping mandate for change.

When Barack Obama first emerged as a serious presidential contender, his wife Michelle had an important, if reluctant, role in the narrative. For a politician who was triggering near messianic fervor, she was the reality check, proof that he put his socks on one foot at a time, like the rest of us mortals. It was a role she seemed to relish – and took a little too far. Her comments about her “stinky, snorey” husband in the marital bed triggered collective shouts of “TMI” – too much information. They were far too reminiscent of both Clintons at their worst, combining Hillary Clinton’s occasional flashes of anger about her husband’s tomcatting with Bill Clinton’s willingness to answer the undignified question posed to him as president, “Do you wear boxers or briefs?” Still, Mrs. Obama did what candidate spouses have done for decades. She helped humanize her husband. Michelle Obama filled out the profile of Barack Obama as a regular guy with two adorable children and a smart, capable, if occasionally neglected wife.

As the primary campaign heated up and became a two-person struggle pitting Barack Obama against Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama’s role expanded. Bill Clinton’s controversial involvement in his wife’s race helped shine the spotlight on Barack Obama’s spouse. Michelle Obama’s now infamous comment that her husband’s rise made her proud to be an American for the first time in her life hurt the Obama effort. Although Mrs. Obama’s gaffe was less destructive than Mr. Clinton’s egocentric, race-baiting antics, the comment played into the Clinton narrative that the Obamas were unpatriotic, supercilious, elitists, privileged Ivy League types bashing America while enjoying her bounty. Well aware of how much Hillary Clinton’s frankness detracted from Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign in 1992, the Obama campaign sought to reposition and then silence Mrs. Obama.

The effort has largely succeeded. In her convention tour de force, Michelle Obama used her life story to normalize her husband’s biography. Her stories of local Chicago girl made good helped tailor Barack Obama’s less conventional biography to fit the more classic contours of the American dream. Her delivery was as good as her content, and she came across as warm, supportive, accomplished but not threatening – not an easy task given the many racist and sexist stereotypes she must overcome.

Since then, it has been relatively quiet on the Obama home front. Barack Obama did one round of interviews with his daughters, which he immediately regretted. Michelle Obama has dutifully accompanied her husband when necessary, but even Cindy McCain has generated more national attention. More broadly, the Sarah Palin phenomenon has been the distaff story of this campaign. It seems that Americans – or journalists – have a limited quota of attention they will pay to women during a campaign, and both potential First Ladies seem to have had less scrutiny than usual, partially because of all the Palin controversies.

Michelle Obama’s passivity is also a reflection of the relatively subdued campaign Barack Obama has run — to his great benefit. In many ways, since the convention, he has shifted gears. The flamboyant, exciting, “yes we can” candidate of last spring has become the calm, unruffled, cool customer of today. Since the financial meltdown, Obama has – publicly – taken the lead by default. He has let John McCain stumble more than anything else. At the same, Obama has run a brilliant ground game, raising money prodigiously, and organizing his ground troops. The upside is that it just may win him the presidency, as people’s perceptions of his maturity and readiness to be chief executive have grown. The downside is that he is smoothly gliding his way toward the White House rather than taking it by storm. If he wins, he will need to work harder during the transition to shape – or even retroactively create – a mandate.


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HNN, 9-1-08

John McCain won this new cycle with the quotation of the day, saying: “I want to thank my fellow Republicans as we take off our Republican hats and put on our American hats.” This statement helped explain the Republicans’ decision allowing Mother Nature to disrupt their convention – although some doubt they had much of a choice. As always in politics, self-interest mingled with self-sacrifice, producing a dizzying mix of cynicism and idealism.

Without trying to minimize the current tribulations of the hurricane-Gustav-tossed regions, and well-aware of the ongoing trauma of Katrina, it is nevertheless easy to mock the sick synergies between hysterical television reporters and posturing politicians on display this holiday weekend. Network anchors often seem downright disappointed when their exaggerated predictions of unprecedented storm damage so frequently are not met; and there are few scenes more cringe-inducing than a convention-hall filled with maudlin politicians trying to outdo each other sentimentally.

Moreover, the strategy worked. So far, the coverage of McCain and the Republicans has been rapturous. President George W. Bush and Vice President Cheney ended up with golden excuses for keeping their low popularity ratings and toxic embrace of the McCain campaign thousands of miles away. And Cindy McCain was spared the humiliation of having her speech compared with Michelle Obama’s silky-smooth superb speech last week.
Less cynically, there is something unsettling about changing procedures in one of the northern-most states when a storm is affecting some of the southern-most states. In politics as in entertainment, the usual instinct is to insist that “the show must go on.” One of American democracy’s glories is that presidential elections have kept to their quadrennial cycle in good times and in bad, during civil war and world wars. Sticking to the routine despite disasters, be they natural or man-made, has great appeal. To start fiddling with the fundamentals of the American political system such as the party conventions unnerves the body politic.

Despite all these concerns, there is something profoundly moving about dramatically changing procedures in one of the northern-most states when a storm is affecting some of the southern-most states. McCain’s sacrifice – and losing four days of television coverage during such a tight race is a sacrifice – helps remind Americans that politics is about more than partisanship. McCain’s gesture – and the hundreds of thousands of dollars Republicans have been donating to flood relief at the convention – affirm that these disparate states remain united, that this country of 300 million people still has a sense of community.

One of the great secrets to American success has been American nationalism, this near magical ability to feel a sense of connection across this vast, diverse, continental empire. There is something delightfully old-fashioned about turning the Republican National Convention into what one Fox News anchor called yet another Labor Day telethon. Before pummeling each other politically, before even choosing a future leader, Americans sometimes need to stop what they are doing, roll up their sleeves, and work together to solve a problem. When people from all over the country gathering in Minneapolis feel the pain of their fellow citizens in New Orleans, America shows that it still works.

We need a politics that can accommodate that kind of communal cooperation even amid partisan combat. We need politicians who can build that sense of community and respond to national crises as national leaders, seeking what is best for our nation, not just for their party.
In fairness, Barack Obama and the Democrats have been equally gracious during this difficult, confusing weekend. But given that John McCain and the Republicans sacrificed more this week, they deserve all the more credit. This campaign has not always produced the kind of high-minded politics both Obama and McCain each have promised, at their respective bests. But this moment of inter-regional sensitivity, national sensibility, and human generosity should be remembered as a highlight, not only of this campaign but of this era, when our focus on individual differences and elite cynicism about nationalism tends to overlook the powerful positive forces keeping Americans together, forging the American nation.

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HNN, 8-26-08

Michelle Obama had two tasks last night when addressing the Democratic National Convention, one positive and one negative. She had to offering a compelling narrative about her life and her husband’s while dispelling the rumors that the two were too elitist and not patriotic enough. To execute this unassisted double-play she uncorked that traditional, magical, American elixir: The American Dream.

In a lovely address that was more about setting a tone than solving problems, Mrs. Obama offered her more conventional biography of South-Side-Chicago-girl-made-good as a way of Americanizing her husband’s famously unconventional biography. Michelle Obama began by repeatedly emphasizing her humble origins, her parents’ values, her up-from-the-bootstraps life story. Standing by the podium radiant and – thank you Joe Biden – not just articulate but eloquent — Michelle Obama was implicitly saying to Mr. and Mrs. America, “I’m just like you. I began in a small room in an undistinguished neighborhood, and look how far I have come.” And then, rhetorically embracing her husband, blurring her story with his, she proclaimed: “And you know, what struck me when I first met Barack was that even though he had this funny name, even though he’d grown up all the way across the continent in Hawaii, his family was so much like mine. He was raised by grandparents who were working class folks just like my parents, and by a single mother who struggled to pay the bills just like we did. Like my family, they scrimped and saved so that he could have opportunities they never had themselves.”

Taking the American dream as their common lodestone, she said: “And Barack and I set out to build lives guided by these values, and pass them on to the next generation. Because we want our children — and all children in this nation — to know that the only limit to the height of your achievements is the reach of your dreams and your willingness to work for them.”

Prior to Michelle Obama’s warm, uplifting speech, Ted Kennedy, the perpetual crown prince of the Democratic Party, made his emotional plea for a Barack Obama presidency. Slower and bloated, but still passionate, Kennedy deputized the young Illinois senator as the heir to Camelot. Speaking of dreams, and channeling his own extraordinary, fiery, and heartbreaking “the dream will never die” consolation speech at the 1980 convention after losing the Democratic nomination to President Jimmy Carter, Kennedy proclaimed: “The work begins anew, the hope rises again, and the dream lives on.”

In the one false note in an otherwise powerful opening, the video tribute to Senator Kennedy spent a lot of time filming him as he steered various younger Kennedys on a majestic sailing ship. It seemed pretty clear that this schooner was part of the Kennedy fleet and not a one-time rental. In a week when Democrats were busy mocking Senator John McCain’s many houses, a quiet scene at home – or at the office — might have been politically wiser.

Of course, the beauty of the American Dream is that it allows our politicians to be far wealthier than ordinary Americans –as so many are. The Obamas have to emphasize their humble origins because, having converted Barack Obama’s newfound celebrity into newfound riches, they do not want to lose their once-common touch. American Dream rhetoric soothes have-nots with hopes of joining the haves, taking the sting out of class differences. The Kennedys have long been a family humanized by both heartbreaking tragedies and soaring liberal idealism despite their vast wealth. McCain erred by appearing doddering and out of touch, relying on his staff to count his and his wife’s houses.

While Americans are not always tolerant of the ways of the wealthy — as John Kerry discovered when he was mocked for windsurfing in 2004 – Americans frequently put up with loaded pols. Perhaps less acceptable are overloaded intellectual credentials. In his botched, sexist introduction of his wife during his debut as Vice Presidential nominee on Saturday, Senator Joe Biden seemed to mock his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, for being a braniac – or at least awkwardly try insulating her from those charges. He said: “Ladies and gentlemen, my wife, Jill, who you’ll meet soon, is drop-dead gorgeous. My wife, Jill, who you’ll meet soon, she also has her doctorate degree, which is a problem. But all kidding aside, my Jill, my Jill, my wife, Jill, and I are honored to join Barack and Michelle on this journey, because that’s what it is.”

The true American journey, which catapulted the Obamas, the Bidens, the McCains and the Kennedys to the stratosphere, acknowledges difference while seeking equality of opportunity. Great wealth is acceptable – but so should be great intellectual achievements, which certainly helped Michelle and Barack Obama get where they are today.

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The first lady tightrope walk

Unlike earlier presidential spouses, Michelle Obama and Cindy McCain must emphasise both career and family to avoid criticism

Excerpted from The Guardian, July 15, 2008

….”Unfortunately for first ladies, the game is often more about un-favourability than favourability,” Gil Troy, a historian at McGill University and the author of Leading from the Centre: Why Moderates Make the Best Presidents, told me. “They rarely deliver votes, but they have much more of a track record of alienating voters or losing voters. So the first lady’s mission is to follow the political version of the Hippocratic Oath: First, do no harm.”….

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Top Picks : Race for first lady : CTV Newsnet: Gil Troy, presidential historian

With five months till the presidential election, the spotlight is now on the political wives. Both Cindy McCain and Michelle Obama are trying to court the public but have stereotypes working against them.

CTV Newsnet: Gil Troy, presidential historian, discusses the political wives  4:47

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SHOW: CANADA AM 8:08:00 ET, CTV Television, Inc. June 17, 2008



O’REGAN: Al Gore says he’s backing Senator Barack Obama for President. The former US Vice President joined Obama
at a Detroit rally last night. As the candidates get into full campaign mode, Americans appear to be equally divided on which candidate they agree with.

For some insight, we are joined by Gil Troy. He is a presidential historian and author of “Leading from the Center: Why Moderates Make the Best Presidents”. He joins us this morning from Washington.

A lot of people in Canada would probably agree with you. I think that’s where we firmly occupy our politics, is in the centre, Gil. Good to have you.

TROY: Great to be with you.

O’REGAN: Let’s first of all talk about the premise of your book, which is — and I’m going to make a quote here — “The middle has long been a very appealing and very American place to be and must remain so. The great American center has a long, proud history, of offering a muscular moderation, not a mushy middle.”

So, let’s start with this year’s campaign. Who is the centrist here? Is it Obama or is it McCain?

TROY: I think the race for the centre is on. Both Barack Obama and John McCain have to approach the campaign, understanding that if they want to win they have to master this politics of the centre. The centre: what does that mean? It means that Barack Obama has to go to that lyricism of his 2004 Democratic national convention speech where he spoke not of a red America or a blue America, but a red-white-and-blue America.

And John McCain has to understand that the reason why he became so popular is because he was the most anti-Bush of the Republicans.

And if they play for the centre they’ll be a success.

O’REGAN: What do you make of Al Gore yesterday and Barack Obama?

TROY: What a surprise. The former Democratic Vice President and nominee embraces Barack Obama. A little late, I would think, from the Barack Obama campaign. They would’ve loved the endorsement before Barack Obama won.

But it’s a way of feeding the news cycle and bringing some excitement to the campaign.

O’REGAN: John McCain is coming to Ottawa this Friday to talk about free trade. And, you know, Obama obviously has questioned NAFTA. Which one do you think, I mean, of the two — let’s move away from the centre and let’s talk about Canada. Which one of the two do you think would be better for Canada, particularly with free trade, you’ve got Afghanistan, borders, other issues?

TROY: I think there are two ways of approaching that question. First, to be honest, and this just isn’t a truism, the best candidate for America is going to be the best candidate for Canada. At this point, the United States has serious issues domestically and in terms of foreign policy. And the person who will be the most effective leader is what Canada needs, as America’s best friend.

On the other hand, I think Barack Obama stumbled during the Democratic primaries when he was playing that NAFTA game and one of his advisers said, “Oh, don’t worry, we’re not really serious about it.”

So, I think Canadians, justifiably, are going to be a little bit wary about Barack Obama. And the whole demagogic way that both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton ran the free-trade debate was a little bit disconcerting. So, McCain looks like he might be the stronger friend of Canada. So we have to see.

O’REGAN: This talk about the wives, Cindy McCain and Michelle Obama. Is this a factor at all during the course of the campaign? Does it matter?

TROY: The role of the wife is to follow a kind of political Hippocratic oath: first, do no harm. And Michelle Obama failed that test a little bit at the beginning when she made a comment saying “It’s the first time I’ve been proud of America.”

And one of the things that I’ve discovered in this book about moderation is that the most important thing is to be an American nationalist. Americans love their country, as Canadians do. And a great centrist is a great nationalist. And Michelle Obama undermined that.

O’REGAN: Let’s talk about John F. Kennedy. You devote a chapter to JFK. Tell me, in your mind, how he led from the centre, particularly during the Cuban missile crisis and civil rights.

TROY: John Kennedy is a good example of someone who grew in office and who learned how to be what I call a muscular moderate. When he first came to office he was a little bit callow, he was a little bit unsure of himself. But during the Cuban missile crisis he showed that he was able to ignore the generals who wanted to bomb Cuba and immediately start what could have been World War III, but to take a more cautious path without being weak. He called for a naval quarantine, a blockade, rather than going to war and rather than retreating.

Similarly, during civil rights he discovered and he showed that we need change sometimes in a country, we need a president who can listen to the American people, not be an extremist, not be a fanatic, but understand as in the 1960s that sometimes bold action is needed. And in his 1963 civil rights speech John Kennedy led the way. Unfortunately, the assassination cut him from being able to really mature as a great leader.

O’REGAN: Gil Troy, a very interesting book. Thank you so much for joining us.

TROY: Thanks. And let’s hope we can see some peace, order and good government in the United States as well. [laughter]

O’REGAN: There you go. Absolutely. Thank you.

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