Barbara and Hillary fight for nation's votes

ENTER the two contestants for the US presidential election. On the right stands that self-effacing, silver-haired matriarch, Barbara Bush, custodian of a nation's homespun values. On the left - very far to the left - is Hillary Clinton, brassy, radical lawyer and self-appointed scourge of the cookie-baking legions of ordinary American motherhood.

Thus, to anyone who followed last week's Republican convention, might have appeared the race for the White House in this year of family. From the moment her husband's campaign took off nine months ago, Mrs Clinton was plainly going to be a factor. Her outspokenness, her eminent legal career, and her political influence on her husband ensured it could not be otherwise. Quite how much of a factor she would become, however, few would have suspected.

From the moment Pat Buchanan opened proceedings with those sneering references about Hillary's 'radical feminism', her purported encouragement of children to sue their parents, and her supposed likening of the family to legalised slavery, it was clear no holds would be barred. Barbara versus Hillary was a leitmotif of the week.

A few had qualms, but the Republicans were sure they were on a winner. And many Democrats, for all the public howls of indignation, privately agreed. Was not Barbara Bush, after all, the most popular Republican in the land?

The differing choreographies of the two party conventions this summer only underlined the point. In Houston, Mrs Bush was permitted to coo and cluck for almost half an hour on prime-time television. In New York a month earlier, Hillary was kept to the fringe meetings.

And long before that, the Democratic image-makers had been busy remodelling their First Lady- to-be. Gone was her husband's sharp-tongued defender, who, when challenged on his alleged marital peccadilloes, told Americans so memorably, 'Heck, if you don't like him, don't vote for him', and remarked that she could have abandoned her career and 'stayed at home and baked cookies' for Bill.

As the campaign progressed, a new Hillary appeared on American television screens, kinder, gentler and - most important - silent. The cameras would catch her on the podium slightly behind the candidate. Her steadfast, adoring gaze reminded of nothing so much as Nancy Reagan on similar occasions, when the Republicans ruled the world.

Hillary is now back on the talk- show round, rebutting the 'preposterous' slanders of Mr Buchanan. But the style is measured, and the language as pitying as it is firm. Invariably, she is seen alongside the wife of vice-presidential candidate Al Gore, the unassailably wholesome Tipper.

Quite transparently, the notion of Hillary as ogre is designed to scare back into the Republican fold traditionalist Southern voters and blue-collar Democrats who believe a woman's place is in the home - and, more generally, to tar Bill Clinton, the real quarry, with the brush of her perceived liberalism.

But the tactics could easily backfire. Attacking a candidate's spouse is a nasty novelty of presidential campaigns that may alienate other parts of the electorate, not to mention younger, modern women who will be tempted to see the Buchanan forays as merely proof of Republican disdain for their sex.

Hillary Rodham Clinton can take care of herself. Her assailants might glance at the history books. More than half a century ago another First Lady's unflinching activism and egalitarianism earned a similar place in Republican demonology. Her name was Eleanor Roosevelt. Her husband Franklin held the White House for a record 13 years. Mr Clinton, of course, is limited to two terms. But in terms of presidential wives, it's not what the Republicans have in mind.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Life and Style
tech
News
The 67P/CG comet as seen from the Philae lander
scienceThe most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Ian McKellen as Gandalf in The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies
film
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Koenig, creator of popular podcast Serial, which is to be broadcast by the BBC
tvReview: The secret to the programme's success is that it allows its audience to play detective
News
Ruby Wax has previously written about her mental health problems in her book Sane New World
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £60,000

£25000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Care Workers Required - The London Borough of Bromley

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This homecare agency is based in Beckenh...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas