Mary Wells: Why I Care About Hillary Clinton and Other Thoughts on America’s First Ladies

I have only known a few. Writers disagree about First Ladies of past years. I would love to have known Mrs. Adams because, as almost all research suggests, she had it all. And I would have loved to know Eleanor Roosevelt, who must have been full of beans and just naturally powerful – I would have liked to be there to reassure her that she really was The One.

But of the First Ladies I have known or, at least, have met, Hillary Clinton is the only one who went to all lengths, for good or bad, as a partner for her husband, and who did the hard work to know enough to be able to fight for her ideas and visions as well as his. She had what has traditionally been a man’s determination to win at all times and she swallowed her national humiliation when her husband permanently cheapened himself and marched on. She does march on. I am proud of the way she marches on. And I was moved by how she understood the need to glamorize herself for television when she ran for president. She was sometimes beautiful. I am glad Obama won for so many reasons. But Hillary made me care about her. 

Most First Ladies stand a little to the left behind their president husbands and smile. Lady Bird Johnson had more gumption and more power than that. I spent time with her, with them, and she was a pistol, a warm one, but over the years, pressing his pants behind the scenes, she developed a political understanding that was as clever as his and helped him from falling into a lot of black holes.

I am wild about Michelle Obama and her potential and I am joyous about the Obama relationship, which is so different from any we have known in the White House. They have fun with each other. They are happy together. They love life together. When they are filmed they become Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in the way they move around the camera smiling at each other and even touching each other – offering to give us even more than a major change in the intelligent leadership of our presidency and the world’s security in our presidency, but also a view of personal life that could give a little lift to this country’s capability of human warmth.

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