Howard Dean's wife deserves your vote

    Deanheads, Deany Babies, Dean-and-Cheese Burritos ‹ whatever you call them, I’m officially one of them. If former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean is still in the race in March and appears on my Democratic presidential primary ballot, I’ll vote for him.

    But not for any of the reasons you might think.

    It has nothing to do with Dean’s stance on the issues. I don’t favor his record, his speaking style, his fashion sense. Nor is it his allegedly inspiring passion and fire, epitomized in last week’s red-faced ranting (which one friend called a “”primal scream,”” but I prefer to think of as a “”barbaric yawp””). I really couldn’t say whether or not he’d make a better president than Kerry, Clark or Edwards.

    Despite my apathy toward the candidate, I will check his box. But I won’t be voting for the man for president. I’ll be voting for his wife for first lady.

    Don’t tell my boyfriend, but I have a huge freakin’ crush on Judith Steinberg Dean ‹ and I think she’s exactly what this country needs in a President’s wife.

    Reason one: It’s right in the name. Judith Steinberg Dean ‹ she’s Jewish, and so are the Deans’ two children. Howard may be Episcopalian, but Dean’s election would give me White House menorah-lightings. I’m not Jewish (though I play one at seder and Shabbat); I just get a kick out of the image of Hebrew echoing through the halls of the West Wing.

    Reason two: She’s a doctor, and apparently a very good one. Neither a homemaker nor a political schemer, she’s a professional who commands respect.

    Reason three: Though she’s an attractive woman, she rarely wears makeup or jewelry and favors casual clothes over the tight-buttoned suits of first ladies past and present. I’m not terribly interested in the paragons of first-lady femininity, like Jackie O or Rosalynn Carter.

    Reason four (and this is the big one): She refuses to put her career on hold because of her husband’s political aspirations. She hasn’t been out there on the campaign trail, glowing at her husband in hopes that voters will love him as much as she does; she has a medical practice to tend to, patients to care for. She has said that if Howard is elected, she will continue practicing medicine. Unfeasible? Perhaps. But I find it a wonderful expression of contemporary feminism. As first lady, Judy Dean would be an excellent role model for girls and young women, showing them in a way that other first ladies couldn’t or wouldn’t, that it’s OK for their desires and aspirations to remain primary.

    Essentially, I love the idea of Judy Dean as our first lady because she completely rejects the traditional first lady role ‹ painted, submissive, benign, ornamental and deeply anti-feminist ‹ without crossing into the manipulative (if exciting) Hillary territory. Whether as his most beautiful accessory or his power-grabbing rival, first ladies have always been auxilary to the President. They live for him or through him. Judy Dean would do neither with Howard, it seems.

    Maybe I’m being unfair. I do have a lot of respect for our former first ladies, and they have done good work drawing attention to whatever issues sparked their interest. And maybe I’m going a little overboard with my love for Judy Dean. But I think it can be understood in two ways.

    First: It would be an absurd understatement to say that I had a feminist upbringing. My mom dragged me to women’s festivals, the kind where guitars are strummed, granola is consumed, New Age crystals are sold and breasts in dire need of bra support are displayed joyfully as women ‹ or should I say “”womyn”” ‹ romp in freedom from the male gaze.

    I keep the bra on, thanks, and prefer Lil’ Kim to Joni Mitchell, but nonetheless developed in this environment a sense that women are entitled to a space and a self separate from men. No matter how much they may love the men in their lives (which is not to say that all of these bare-chested women had, ahem, men in their lives), they didn’t feel obligated to center their existences on them.

    Second: I have undergone a rapid and bitter political disillusionment over the last four years. Though at age six I dialed for Democrat Michael Dukakis in Nickelodeon’s call-in “”Kids Vote””; though the highlight of my wide-eyed ten-year-old life was, in the hot summer of 1992, the moment I shook Bill Clinton’s hand; though I railed against Bob Dole to my high school friends; though I had butterflies in my stomach as I registered to vote just after turning 18; I am now jaded.

    The 2000 presidential election disappointed me deeply, and turned my youthful idealism into sour resentment. The Democratic Party was foundering; all politicians were prostitutes; not one of them was worth my ballot. With every passing election, I grew more and more cynical about American politics, and by the time the recall rolled around, the only reason I voted at all was because a buddy was running for governor.

    But in my heart, amid the vaguely Marxist indictments of our so-called democracy and the well-founded suspicion of anyone running for office, is the six-year-old. She is awed by candidates, voting, debates, ideas, policy, promises. She wants to believe in something ‹ in someone. And if that someone has to be a New England physician who’s not even running for public office, so be it.

    Some of my friends, real Deanheads, say that Howard Dean has restored their faith in politics. I can’t say I understand that. But for me, Judy Dean has sparked interest in and passion for an election I was sure I’d channel-surf right past.

    And if you think that’s weird, you should have seen the truly disturbing first-lady-fetishizing t-shirts sported at the women’s festivals ‹ I don’t think Tipper and Hillary would approve.

    Claire can be reached between benders, bookishness and babysitting at cjvannette @hotmail.com.

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