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The election is more than whose wife does what ON POLITICS


WASHINGTON -- In his largely ignored speech at the Republican National Convention, television evangelist Pat Robertson posed the real choice, in his view, facing the voters in November. Robertson said he couldn't believe that "the American people are so blind that they would replace Barbara Bush with Hillary Clinton."

The last time anybody looked, neither the president's wife nor the wife of the Democratic presidential nominee was on the ballot in any state. The observation would be laughable had not the convention planners trotted out the president's wife, far more popular in the polls than her husband, in prime time to highlight their "family values" night in Houston. They obviously hope that voters will factor her in -- and also take into consideration the Democratic nominee's wife -- when deciding how to cast their votes for president 10 weeks from now.

This is the same party that says, when the Democrats argue that voters should factor in President Bush's running mate, Vice President Dan Quayle, in making their voting decision, that the election is to pick the next president, not the vice president.

The president and Mrs. Bush have both argued that Hillary Clinton is fair game because, as Mrs. Bush put it in a television interview, "Governor and Mrs. Clinton had both said that they were going to be a co-presidency." Clinton in fact specifically said more than four months ago that his wife "wouldn't be a co-president," although he was saying earlier that his slogan regarding her was "Buy one, get one free."

Clinton has stopped saying that but, pointing to Mrs. Clinton's work in behalf of children, has said he would want her to continue her efforts. That would certainly be no innovation. Mrs. Bush has specialized in promoting literacy as Nancy Reagan focused on getting kids to "Just say no" to drugs.

Still, the Hillary-bashing continues unabated, as if voters really will decide how to vote on the basis to which Pat Robertson alluded. At the convention, commentator-turned-candidate Pat Buchanan and Republican National Chairman Rich Bond both cited a paper on children's legal rights written by Hillary Clinton at Harvard 18 years ago to make the preposterous charge that she equated marriage with slavery. What she wrote was that under the law a "dependency relationship" existed for wives and slaves that denied them certain rights, and that children like wise were denied certain rights.

One of the ironies of the Republican convention was the speech by second lady Marilyn Quayle. Amid all the Hillary-bashing, she defended the role of wife as professional woman and political partner. "Believe me," she said, "having a profession is not incompatible with being a good mother or a good wife." But when her husband went "into politics," she said, "I chose to leave my law practice and join his campaigns. . . . When Dan married me, he married a budding lawyer. He wanted a partner -- and he has one."

As wife of a congressman, then a senator and now vice president, Marilyn Quayle has played every bit as much a key role in her husband's political career as Hillary Clinton has played in her husband's.

In another interview, Mrs. Quayle applauded the fact that Mrs. Clinton was "being treated in a professional manner by looking at what she's done as a professional" but said she found it "very troubling" that Mrs. Clinton had once written about "children having the ability to sue your parents," which Mrs. Clinton mentioned in connection with child abuse or withheld medical care. Tipper Gore, wife of Democratic vice-presidential nominee Al Gore, shot back that "children chained to radiators by their parents and starved to death" should have "legal recourse."

In today's America, with working wives and mothers so commonplace, it's hard to gauge whether there is much political hay to be harvested in criticizing the woman who has successfully managed two careers, as professional and homemaker. Hillary Clinton obviously flirted with political trouble with her remark in Chicago on the day of the Illinois primary that rather than be a lawyer "I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas." But the November election surely is about much more than such matters.

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