Thursday, October 15, 2009

Book Review: ... And His Lovely Wife

…and His Lovely Wife: A Memoir from the Woman Beside the Man, by Connie Schultz. NY: Random House, 2007.

Most political spouses stay on the sidelines or in the shadows. Connie Schultz, who was a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist before her husband, Sherrod Brown, decided to run for a Senate seat in Ohio, is not your standard political spouse. The title of the book is taken from the introduction she received at far too many political events. There are any number of unwritten rules for candidates’ wives, many of them contradictory. They are supposed to be smart and accomplished, but not overshadow the candidate. They should have opinions but never contradict the candidate. In Schultz’s case she also provided much needed health care benefits for the candidate. Brown was in Congress but wouldn’t take the health benefits until all Americans could get coverage.

Like many women who married after establishing a professional reputation she didn’t change her name, something that doesn't go over well with all potential voters or donors. This, as well as the overemphasis on womens' appearance, are among the challenges she had to deal with during the campaign. Trying to keep up with family, both her father (who died before the election), her children, and Brown’s daughters, was also daunting.

Schultz provides an insider’s view of the successful senate campaign, as well as the seldom heard spouse’s story. First ladies have been writing autobiographies recently but it is still a relatively new phenomenon. Schultz offers a glimpse into a race that focuses on a lower level, but still federal, race. One particular section, on the campaign’s plan to counter an expected negative ad involving Brown’s first marriage, takes into account both the political and the personal aspects. Those who write firsthand campaign accounts are usually either victorious candidates or campaign operatives who have achieved some level of celebrity. Here we have a chance to see the inner workings of a campaign from a different viewpoint. The role of the press is also explored, from a professional and personal angle, as she considers when to take a leave from her job at the newspaper to avoid a conflict of interest. It is an easily read narrative, a memoir rather than a policy polemic.

There are few enough political autobiographies written by women (because there are fewer women in office than men) and very few written by spouses of either gender, though when Kay Orr was governor of Nebraska her husband did produce the traditional cookbook to raise funds for the upkeep of the governor’s mansion (see The First Gentleman’s Cookbook). Hopefully there will be more titles of this nature. I enjoyed reading it.

After Brown's election she returned to her job at Cleveland's newspaper The Plain Dealer. You can read more about Schultz in her wikipedia entry.

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