Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

October 25, 2016   |   Ithaca, NY

BlogsWomen in Washington

Marriage and sacrifice.

I’ve been pretty much locked up in my room since Friday, binge watching House of Cards (if you didn’t do the same, you should re-evaluate your life choices here, friend).  In one episode, Claire, the wife of Frank Underwood, participates in a live interview with a reporter, who continuously asked questions about what Claire was sacrificing in her life in order for Frank to have the career he wanted.  Claire said that it was a team effort all the way, but it made me wonder – just how much do the wives of politicians give up?

Certainly their privacy, for starters.  Look at the wife of South Carolina governor, Mark Sanford.  The world got to watch her personal life play out when her husband disappeared for nearly a week until it came out that her husband had been having an affair with a woman in Argentina.  Then the media went crazy. The same goes for John and Elizabeth Edwards, Bill and Hillary Clinton, and the Kennedys.  There are very few secrets that these families can keep to themselves because they are perpetually in the public eye.

I think that the wives of politician’s give up a lot of their ability to outwardly express emotion.  Claire Underwood (House of Cards) is made of stone.  She is very rehearsed and calculates each and every word and I think that this is probably the way most politician’s wives have to be – everything they say ultimately reflects their husband’s campaign.  Even the personal conversations that Hillary Clinton had with her best friend ended up coming out and being made public (see my last post!).

Politician’s spouses definitely give up their own time in order to make their partner a success.  The movie Mitt shows just how exhausted Ann Romney was during her husband’s campaign in 2008.  She says that she would put her foot down and not let him do it again.  And there she was in 2012, just as tired, helping him campaign.

Even small town politicians wives are completely invested. I read an article written by a woman named Cheryl Williams, whose husband was starting his political career by running for City Council.  She said that she had expected to be supportive, but not truly active in the campaign.  She was sorely mistaken.

I got swept up into his campaign. I started answering his emails. I made him a website. I wrote speeches for him and helped prepare him for the questions he would have at forums. I told him what to wear, how to act, what to say and what not to say. I attended his forum and took notes on the other candidates. I mingled with politicians and leaders in the community. I came up with slogans. I came up with campaign ideas. When he did well at a forum, I would stand proud. When he screwed up, I felt myself sinking low into my chair.

Ultimately, her husband did not win and she was thankful. She would never have to be in the same shoes as Elizabeth Edwards, giving up all of her life and privacy for her husband’s career.

While I do believe that Claire wants her husband to be a success just as much as he does, I think she definitely underplays how much is being sacrificed in her life in order for him to get that success.  I think that it takes a lot of strength to be the wife of a politician.  Would I be able to handle it?  I’m sure I could take it if I needed to, but I wouldn’t want to end up as made of stone as Claire Underwood.  And that, I think, is the only way to survive as a politician’s wife.


* If you are or know someone who is a politician’s spouse and disagree, please reach out to me.  I have a genuine curiosity about this!