Sarah Paley is married to Bob Kerrey, who is campaigning to become Nebraska’s newest U.S. senator.
I hate beginning a conversation about this gifted comedy writer by identifying her through her marriage, but it’s because she’s married to Kerrey that her funny essay for this month’s Vogue magazine has generated a scorching round of headlines by the willfully clueless:
“Bob Kerrey’s wife, Sarah Paley, rues his political career, disses Nebraska in Vogue essay” (The Washington Post).
“Bob Kerrey’s wife slams Midwest” (The Washington Post, again).
“Musings by Kerrey’s Wife: True barbs or a biting wit?” (Omaha World-Herald).
“Kerrey’s Wife Writes About Wanting to End His Campaign” (Taegan Goddard’s Political Wire).
“Did Bob Kerrey’s wife sabotage his campaign?” (HotAir).
What did Paley write to spark this firestorm?
Here are a few snippets from her essay, titled “The (Not So) Good Wife”:
“I am not a political animal. I am not even a social animal. My idea of a good time is when people cancel.”
“As the campaign progresses, I wonder if I will be a liability. How will I stump? I do not own a pantsuit, pearls or an American flag lapel pin.”
“Leaving Omaha, you drive through farmland and behold what Nebraska is supposed to look like: mesh silos that you can see through if they aren’t full of corn, red barns with copper roofs and fields of yellow soybeans. Every now and then the picturesque ‘Little House on the Prairie’ reverie is interrupted by billboards with pictures of babies and messages like ABORTION STOPS A BEATING HEART or TAKE MY HAND, NOT MY LIFE.”
She also jokingly invited friends to have an affair with her husband to knock him out of the race.
Surely, this was a serious call for help.
Boy, I hope she starts a blog.
I first found out about Paley’s essay after Pema Levy, a talented young reporter for Talking Points Memo, called to talk about it. Levy’s first question: What do you think of Paley’s humorous essay?
See? This is why I keep saying our young people will save us from ourselves. She knew Paley was just having a little fun.
Contrast that with Washington Post writer Emily Heil’s take: “Glossy magazine features written by a candidates (sic) wife are supposed to be a good thing for a campaign. But Sarah Paley, the wife of Bob Kerrey, who’s running for his old Senate seat representing Nebraska, didn’t help her husband’s campaign with the piece she just penned for Vogue. The Manhattanite calls the Midwest ‘strange’ and reveals that she didn’t want Kerrey to run. Oh, and she claims to be intensely private — all the while posing in designer duds.”
Goodness, it gets snotty out there.
First of all, I live in the Midwest, and I always have thought we are strange — especially if, by “strange,” you mean we’re wa-a-a-a-y different from people in Washington. Point of pride, thank you.
I’m a U.S. senator’s wife, but you never will read that on my business card. I make my living writing for newspapers and magazines. No one ever told me my writing should be “a good thing” for my husband’s campaign. Now that really is “a good thing,” as I have a habit of getting all feminist-y, except when I’m writing about our dog.
Stories about Sarah Paley keep referring to her as a former writer for “Saturday Night Live.” This illustrates some awareness that she’s funny on purpose but indicates a mistaken belief that she’s also frozen in time. Like so many modern-day political spouses, she’s raising a child and still doing that career thing, too. She writes screenplays and all kinds of magazine essays, including witty dispatches for The New Yorker.
Michael Tomasky, in a piece for The Daily Beast titled “Let Us Praise Sarah Paley,” got it almost right:
“There are ways in which politics is the most reactionary arena there is. When it comes to customs and roles and so on, the political culture is still half stuck in the 1950s. … We need people like Paley to drag this desiccated world view into the current century, where most women work and have the independence of mind that comes with having one’s own salary and, whether they’re personally liberal or conservative, wouldn’t do any of the insipid crap that political wives have to do.”
My only quibble: Nobody makes us do anything. We so-called political wives are all grown up, and like any loving wife, we pick our battles. Sometimes even when we do show up, our minds are elsewhere.
It’s possible, for example, that someday soon, when I’m watching my husband’s speech for the 217th time, I’ll swoon like a boy-band groupie, but I’ll be thinking, “When the heck is PBS going to run the third season of ‘Downton Abbey’?”
I hope I can trust you with this small confession. I’d hate to read a blog post tomorrow headlined “Senator’s Wife Would Rather Live in England.”
Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and an essayist for Parade magazine. She is the author of two books, including “…and His Lovely Wife,” which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. To find out more about Connie Schultz (firstname.lastname@example.org) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.