The race for the Republican Vice-presidential candidate continues. The former President has been declared the Republican Presidential nominee, but his former Vice-president has been disqualified because he, Mr. Pence, refused to violate his oath to uphold the Constitution. The Democrats will nominate President Biden and Vice-president Harris for a second term.  The challenge from the antivaccine candidate, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who sounds more like a Republican extremist than a liberal Democrat, has gained few supporters from either party. 

The clamor amongst Republican candidates seeking the number two position has echoed the usual views that we need more guns, no abortions, support for heterosexual Christian ‘values,’ no black, brown, or Hispanic immigrants, more tax cuts, more guns, less welfare, and more guns. The rhetoric has changed little over the past 50 years, even as the voting population has changed considerably.  Given the increasingly nonwhite, nonChristian, nonheterosexual, nonmale voting population, those in power have returned to the ever-reliable options of voter suppression and gerrymandering to hold on to their positions.

As we listen to the uninspiring proposals from these candidates, what has been evident, but unemphasized, has been the appeal of some of their spouses. Ron Desantis had and lost the lead in this scramble to the job once described by a political operative as “not worth a bucket of piss.” His lack of charisma and relentless attack on something he called “wokeness” stood in contrast to his wife’s undeniable affability and congeniality.  His wife, unlike he, actually seemed to enjoy campaigning and talking to all kinds of people. She was reminiscent of Bill Clinton: for those of us old enough to remember loser candidates from the past, Ron Desantis reminded us of Barry Goldwater, a Republican nominee who thought dropping atomic bombs on Vietnam was a good way to wrap up that conflict.

Similarly, Vivek Ramaswamy has tried to distinguish himself from the maddening crowd by espousing rhetoric more befitting Attila the Hun than the leader of a democratic republic.  His extremism is as original as it is terrifying, but that approach allegedly motivates the Republican ‘base’ to support a candidate.  He has declared the Covid vaccine and global warming as “hoaxes” and claims that he only got vaccinated because the government lied about it. He promises he will not be fooled again. As for that global warming nonsense, the oil and gas industry has assured him that those fires in Hawaii and the American northwest and in eastern Canada were problems with forest management, not drought or heat. The triple digit weather in much of the lower 48 states was a fluke. It won’t happen again if he is [vice] President.

In contrast to Mr. Ramaswamy’s silly talk, his wife, Dr. Apoorva Ramaswamy, has come across in interviews as thoughtful, intelligent and articulate.  She makes no apology for get vaccinated against Covid-19.  She is a physician specializing in ear, nose, and throat diseases, and she says she got vaccinated to protect her patients. She advocates increased access to voting, rather than increased restrictions. Her aspirations for a President Ramaswamy are best described as liberal. We probably will not hear much more from her if her husband is chosen to run with the former President.  Her political preferences are more reminiscent of Joe Biden than of Vivek Ramaswamy.

Despite her disappearance from the political stage, one must not forget Melania, the former President’s third and current wife. She obviously grew weary of being trotted out for photo ops depicting the former President as the head of a close-knit and happy family, rather than the callous and uncaring husband and sexual predator those terrible Democrats would have us believe he is. She had a refreshing candor, not seen in the White House since Alice Roosevelt, Teddy’s eldest daughter, spewed unapologetic, albeit ignorant, racism and antisemitism to an insatiable press corps. Melania was a bit more reserved in her remarks to the press than was Alice, but Melania had friends who bothered to record their conversations with her and pass on the recordings to interested parties.  With friends like that…

The spouses of past candidates and Presidents have played enormous roles in the outcome of elections and presidential legacies.  Edith Galt cared for her husband, Woodrow Wilson, when he had a stroke that left him incapacitated.  The consensus at the time and subsequently was that she took over as President and signed bills into law with his forged signature.  Dolly Madison provided the charm and wit to the presidency that her bland and bookish husband James could never muster. Kitty Dukakis sank the candidacy of her husband Michael when she revealed that she drank various household liquids containing ethanol to manage her chronic alcoholism. Betty Ford’s struggle with alcoholism became a symbol of her strength but did nothing to strengthen the candidacy of President Gerald Ford. Jackie Kennedy’s charm and grace helped her husband John F. Kennedy win the Presidency by one of the narrowest margins in history.  Without her participation in the campaign, JFK would probably have been remembered as an ‘also ran,’ rather than as a charming but philandering President.

Over the past six decades, the spouses of candidates have become increasingly important in their bids for public office.  Perhaps it is unfair for men and women to be judged on the basis of whom they have chosen to be their paramours, consorts, conjugal partners, etc., but politics is not about fairness. It is about power, obsessions, agendas, and connections. That it often makes for strange bedfellows is not surprising.

Dr. Lechtenberg is an Easton resident who graduated from Tufts University and Tufts Medical School in Massachusetts and subsequently trained at The Mount Sinai Hospital and Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in Manhattan.  He worked as a neurologist at several New York Hospitals, including Kings County and The Long Island College Hospital, while maintaining a private practice, teaching at SUNY Downstate Medical School, and publishing 15 books on a variety of medical topics. He worked in drug development in the USA, as well as in England, Germany, and France.

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