AFFAIRS OF STATE: The Rise and Rejection of the Presidential Couple by Gil Troy

AFFAIRS OF STATE: The Rise and Rejection of the Presidential Couple

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Emphasizing the increasingly complex political and cultural role of the First Lady, Troy (History/McGill Univ.; See How They Ran, 1991) takes an unusual look at the travails of ten modern presidential couples, from the Trumans to the Clintons. While First Ladies could be popular or unpopular, and could always exert an influence on policy (most dramatically in the case of Woodrow Wilson's wife, Edith, after Wilson's stroke in 1919), Troy argues, only recently has the concept of the ""First Couple"" emerged, in which the role of the president's wife helps define the direction and success of her husband's administration. Bess Truman, Mamie Eisenhower, and Jackie Kennedy were high-profile women whose popularity contributed to their husbands' electoral successes, but in contrast to more recent First Ladies, they didn't play a direct role in formulating policy, Troy points out. The Eisenhowers' strong marriage, for instance, helped Ike maintain high approval ratings throughout his two administrations. Jackie Kennedy, with her enormous popularity and glamour, self-consciously created a Kennedy myth that concealed the president's marital infidelities and other sordid truths for years. As the role of women changed in society in recent decades, so did that of the First Lady; Lady Bird Johnson and Betty Ford were activist First Ladies who became lightning rods for criticism of their husbands; the Carters and Reagans were ""co-presidents,"" with the First Lady having a direct impact on important aspects of policy. The Clintons represent the culmination of this trend: Hillary Rodham Clinton was put in charge of a major policy initiative, and her activities became a principal headache for her husband. Her unpopularity demonstrated the popular confusion and discomfort over the First Lady's evolution from simply the president's wife to a political partner. Full of surprising and fascinating anecdotes, this is an absorbing look at an often-overlooked aspect of the modern presidency.

Pub Date: Jan. 15th, 1997
Page count: 496pp
Publisher: Free Press