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The Politics of the President's Wife

MaryAnne Borrelli

Publication Year: 2011

As the West Wing has grown in power and organizational complexity during the modern presidency, so has the East Wing, office home to the First Lady of the United States. This groundbreaking work by MaryAnne Borrelli offers both theoretical and substantive insight into behind-the-scenes developments from the time of Lou Henry Hoover to the unfolding tenure of Michelle Robinson Obama.
Political scientists and historians have recognized the personal influence the First Lady can exercise with her husband, and they have noted the moral, ethical, and sometimes policy leadership certain presidents’ wives have offered. Nonetheless, scholars and commentators alike have treated the personal relationship and the professional relationship as overlapping.
Borrelli offers a compelling counter-perspective: that the president’s wife exercises power intrinsic to her role within the administration. Like others within the presidency, she has sometimes presented the president’s views to constituents and sometimes presented constituents’ views to the president, thus taking on a representative function within the system. In mediating president-constituent relationships, she has given a historical and social frame to the presidency that has enhanced its symbolic representation; she has served as a gender role model, enriching descriptive representation in the executive branch; and she has participated in policy initiatives to strengthen an administration’s substantive representation. These contributions have been controversial, as might be predicted for a gender outsider, but they have unquestionably made the First Lady a representative of and to the president and, by extension, the president’s administration.

Published by: Texas A&M University Press

Series: Joseph V. Hughes Jr. and Holly O. Hughes Series on the Presidency and Leadership

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 1-6


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pp. vii-7


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pp. viii-8


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pp. ix-10

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pp. xi-xii

I am overwhelmed by the generosity of my colleagues, friends, and family, who have contributed so much of their time and their expertise to this book. These acknowledgments can only hint at the extent of my indebtedness and my appreciation. My first thanks are extended...

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1. Introduction

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pp. 1-24

The wives of the modern presidents are complicated women. Their personalities defy easy categorization, their partisan and gender ideologies vary widely, and their ambitions cannot be readily discerned. Yet political science and gender studies are both dedicated to searching out the patterns that underlie apparently disparate phenomena...

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2. Before They Were First Ladies

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pp. 25-58

The successful presidential campaign is an ending and a beginning for the woman who becomes first lady. Immersed in public outreach—traveling independently or with the presidential candidate, confronting the scrutiny of the media and the electorate, responding to diverse gender and partisan ideologies— future first ladies refine their skills...

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3. The Nation’s Hostess:The First Lady and Symbolic Representation

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pp. 59-90

Symbols are numerous and diverse in the presidency, but the White House may be the most conspicuous and the most meaningful. Well into the twentieth century, those attending White House receptions and dinners wore “court dress,” conforming to standards set in western European royal courts. Women, for example, were expected...

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4. Voice and Message: The First Lady and Descriptive Representation

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pp. 91-150

Technology has dramatically affected presidential responsibilities and opportunities for rhetorical leadership. Broadcast and electronic media outlets, from radio to television to the Internet, have multiplied and diversified, driving a twenty- four- hour news cycle. Print media, meanwhile, has found its circulation numbers fluctuating...

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5. Gender and Policy: The First Lady and Substantive Representation

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pp. 151-193

Many of the modern first ladies have been substantive representatives. Lou Henry Hoover mobilized networks of citizens and organizations to provide social and economic relief during the Depression. Eleanor Roosevelt held a presidential appointment as assistant director in the Office of Civilian Defense, in which capacity she testified before...

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6. Conclusion

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pp. 194-202

First ladies confront extraordinary responsibilities. They are expected to use, interpret, and make symbols that will facilitate communications and relationships among the public and their husbands’ administrations. They are perceived as gender role models and charged with winning the support of moderates, while sustaining the loyalty...


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pp. 203-226

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 227-239


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pp. 241-252

E-ISBN-13: 9781603444224
E-ISBN-10: 160344422X
Print-ISBN-13: 9781603442855

Page Count: 282
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: Joseph V. Hughes Jr. and Holly O. Hughes Series on the Presidency and Leadership