Should Candidates' Spouses Give Convention Speeches?

Remarks by candidates' spouses have become a standard part of political conventions, but some wonder whether or not they are relevant.

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Michelle Obama delivered a passionate speech Tuesday night at the Democratic National Convention, speaking of her husband as a family man who rose to the presidency from modest means and drawing tears from delegates. Ann Romney was similarly well-received at the Republican event last week.

A speech by the presidential nominees' wives has become a standard part of the orchestrated series of events at the nominating conventions, and this year, the women were given the responsibility of revealing their husbands' character to voters. Romney in particular was tasked with "humanizing" her husband Mitt, as he is notoriously stiff on the campaign trail. The first lady, too, took the opportunity to share personal anecdotes about her husband in an attempt to show voters his softer side. Both women spoke of their husbands' commitment to family, role as a father, and why their backgrounds make them the most qualified candidate to lead the country for the next four years.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the 2012 campaign.]

"We Americans believe that a wife can tell us about her husband in ways we can't discern from ads, stump speeches, or even debates: about his personal morality, his character, how he reacts to crisis—in short, who he really is," writes CNN's Catherine Allgor.

The prominent role the speeches have taken on in conventions shows that voters react to the personal stories, but some question whether or not a speech by a candidate's spouse should be relevant to the campaign. It also becomes an issue of gender, as all of the presidents have been men and thusly only women have been responsible for giving the spouses' speech. Blogger Shelby Knox says the speech as it stands today is inherently sexist:

Put the shoe on the other foot. No adviser would assume male voters would take the word of one man about how his wife would take on "men's issues." When a male spouse is eventually asked to give a convention speech, will he be tasked with dehumanizing his wife? Not only does she have formidable foreign policy experience, her P.M.S. doesn't get so bad? That too would be sexist and irrelevant.

[See Photos of Michelle Obama Reaching Out to Democrats.]

She says the convention is the country's "job interview," and a wife's musings on her husband's too-small shoes aren't a valuable contribution to the evaluation process. But Allgor says that women aren't being used as puppets when they tell stories like these:

It is not correct to say, however, that these women are mere pawns of their husbands and their handlers. They are being asked to serve the campaign's purposes, but they often have their own messages to send. Even while performing the role of the selfless, devoted wife, they tell us something about themselves and their own values.

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