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Martha Washington for President: Saluting First Ladies During Women's History Month

Contact: Jane Hampton Cook, 703-255-2886


OPINION, Mar. 19 /Christian Newswire/ -- Jane Hampton Cook submits the following for publication and is available for comment:


Martha Washington for President: Saluting First Ladies during Women's History Month


Character is the perfume of the presidency. The scent is everywhere, from Newt Gingrich's frank admission of an affair to Hillary Clinton's outrage when one of her former Hollywood supporters called her a liar. Those with their eye on the White House in 2008 understand character's importance, enough to employ different strategies to address their reputation with voters. And as a former first lady runs for president for the first time and in honor of Women's History Month, it's curious to wonder what Martha Washington or other first ladies would have brought to a campaign if they could have run as candidates. The answer is as simple as their cologne.


First, almost all first ladies would have brought the sweetness of headlines. Dolley Madison's ability to host the best bash in town would have earned her praise from reporters. Jackie Kennedy's style alone would have made her the brightest star of any Hollywood fundraiser given in her name. Eleanor Roosevelt's maverick, almost John McCain-like approach, would have wooed reporters in the back of a presidential bus. A "Martha Washington for President" campaign, however, would have stitched a multi-colored yarn. The story would have shown how a wealthy petite Virginian suddenly became a household name when husband George became commander-in-chief of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War.


"I dont doubt but you have see the Figuer our arrival made in the Philadelphia paper and I left it in as great pomp as if I had been a very great somebody," Martha wrote to a friend of her astonishment to see her name in the newspaper in December 1775. Her shock continued as she became the subject of songs, and her name graced the sides of ships.


Demographics. Abigail Adams would have surely earned the female vote in her own presidential campaign. As she asked her husband John to do, Abigail would have "remembered the ladies." Her cologne of frankness and story of survival would have lured voters' noses. After all, Abigail had spent much of the Revolutionary War acting as a single mom by running a farm and caring for her children while John served as a statesman abroad. Had women been able to vote for Abby, they surely would have.


Issue-oriented voters. As a teacher of the hearing impaired, a "Grace Coolidge for President" campaign would have sounded loudly with credibility to both the disability and education communities. Lady Bird Johnson would have conveniently won over the inconvenient-truth type environmentalists. Anna Harrison's ability to raise ten children would have swayed family values voters. Her Barbara Bush-like commitment to parenting would have shone brighter than her whitening hair.


Diplomacy. Whether hosting a state dinner or traveling abroad, first ladies have shared the unofficial role of diplomat. Harriet Lane brought Condoleezza Rice-like diplomacy to the White House in 1857. A "Harriet for President" campaign would have allowed this niece and first lady to President James Buchanan to boast of her diplomatic achievements. She had successfully hosted both the first member of the British royal family and the first official Japanese delegation to the White House. One New York Times reporter was so impressed after meeting Harriet that he abandoned his original intention of writing about Buchanan. Instead he wrote a short paragraph about the president and penned one five times longer about this "Republican princess." What made Harriet successful, however, was the effort she put into governing her heart, a fragrant idea that her uncle instilled into her thousands of times.


Although half of our first ladies could not vote for their husbands and most lived before women could even consider holding a public policy position or running for office, many wore the perfume of the presidency. Martha Washington's character of humility and thoughtfulness led her to use her name recognition to its highest potential. She called on other women to contribute money and time by supplying the Continental soldiers with shirts, socks, and sundries. Most importantly, she led by example. She stitched and sewed with her own hands while asking others to do the same. She also gave from her own purse. "Mrs. Washington's Bounty to the Soldiers," according to one record book, totaled $20,000.


A "Martha Washington for President" campaign (or an Abigail, Harriet, or others) would have woven together the values of hard work, leadership by example, and generosity. Whether the candidate is a man or woman—or the era is 1788 or 2008—integrity is still an essential ingredient. It's the hallmark of history, the scent of a candidate. Voters care about it, which makes character something to watch—and smell—in the campaign ahead.


(By Jane Hampton Cook, the author of The Faith of America's First Ladies and former White House Deputy Director of Internet News Services to President George W. Bush, www.janecook.com).