With the exception of Eleanor Roosevelt, no wife of a president or presidential candidate has been the target of the kind of political attacks the Republican Party is now aiming at Hillary Clinton. But then, no candidate's wife has compiled the high-visibility resume that distinguishes Ms. Clinton's career as a corporate lawyer and a national advocate for children and their ,, welfare.
In Houston last week, the GOP devoted an unprecedented amount of prime time exposure to the wives of their candidates. Barbara Bush, whose soaring popularity stands in sharp contrast to her husband's low standing in opinion polls, is the quintessential American grandmother who clearly revels in her role as homemaker. Marilyn Quayle is a more contemporary version of the same vision, a lawyer who set aside her own professional aspirations in order to devote more time to her three children and her husband's political career.
Both these women could serve as models for many Americans. What is troubling -- and puzzling -- is their use by the Bush campaign as foils for attacks on Mrs. Clinton as somehow un-American for making a different choice. While Mrs. Clinton has been attacked as a woman who would engineer a co-presidency, Mrs. Quayle was loudly cheered as she referred to herself and her husband as a kind of vice-presidential team.
Clearly, there is a double standard here, and that is only one of the dangers we see for the Republicans in attacking Mrs. Clinton. More significant is the impression this strategy creates that the Bush-Quayle campaign is somehow running against working women.
With Hillary and Bill Clinton, the American electorate faces something new in a presidential campaign, a "power couple" in which both spouses have successful careers. Only 29 percent of working women say they, like Hillary Clinton, work for professional reasons. But staying home is a luxury most working women cannot afford; 66 percent cite economic necessity as a reason for holding jobs. Regardless of their aspirations, working women know that Mrs. Clinton understands the challenge of juggling family needs and the demands of the work place. (See letters in today's Forum)
It hasn't always been easy to adjust to new roles for women. But by and large Americans have done it, and both the country and the economy have profited from a significant enlargement of the talent pool. Now these changes are trickling up to the presidential level and, sure enough, the transition is not easy. Attacking those trends may attract some votes, but in the end we suspect this strategy will be seen as one that, unintentionally or not, demeans millions of working women.