The hosts of Bloomberg: Masters in Politics, Tammy Haddad and Betsy Fischer Martin, got a chance to speak with Kate Brower, author of First Women: The Grace and Power of America’s Modern First Ladies and The Residence: Inside the Private World of The White House, about the lives of the first ladies. They talked about the ways each of the modern first ladies handled life in the public eye and how they managed to maintain normalcy inside the White House while their husbands bore the scrutiny of the political world.
As for the current First Lady, Michelle Obama, according to Brower, “She’s counting down the days until she can leave the White House.” On the campaign trail Michelle Obama was a reluctant surrogate. “She would always push back. She was constantly saying ‘you have to have an exact reason for why I’m doing this,’ she just doesn’t want to go out and just do anything.”
The previous First Lady, now presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, “Gave up a lot to be with Bill Clinton,” early in her career, says Brower. She faced misogyny and criticism from her earliest days practicing law in Arkansas, “but even at the very beginning, from early times, she was playing the game so well. In Arkansas she would get criticism for not changing her name, she kept her maiden name when she was practicing law.”
Brower also shared some anecdotes from Jackie Kennedy’s tenure as First Lady. In her research, Brower was surprised to hear that Kennedy’s first visit back to the White House since the death of her husband was in 1971 for the unveiling of John Kennedy’s portrait. According to Brower, “Lady Bird had tried to get her to come back and Jackie wouldn’t come, it was too fresh and too painful. And so she went when Pat Nixon asked her to, and the Nixon’s sent a plane to pick them up. Caroline was 13 and John Kennedy Jr was 10 and they went to the White House to see the President’s official portrait. It was this very moving thing. Jackie later wrote to Pat Nixon saying, ‘Can you imagine the gift you gave my family? The day I always dreaded turned out to be one of the most wonderful days I’ve spent with my children,’ Pat Nixon felt a lot of sympathy for Jackie and what she went through.”
One of the things Brower also found surprising about Jackie Kennedy was her commitment to standing by her husband during the Cuban Missile Crisis. “She was told about this bunker and she absolutely refused. She said, ‘If anything happens I want to stay here with Jack and the kids do too and we’re not going anywhere. We’re going to stand on the South Lawn.’ It’s just incredible how brave she was.”
You can listen to the latest episode of Bloomberg: Masters in Politics here.