Beauty Shop: GOP Wives Star In Campaign Ads

This week, the ladies discuss whether voters will be swayed by political ads featuring the wives of Republican presidential candidates. They also tackle the controversy around the American Heritage Dictionary adding the term "anchor baby." Guest host Allison Keyes speaks with a diverse panel of bloggers and journalists.

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ALLISON KEYES, HOST:

This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Allison Keyes sitting in for Michel Martin. Now it's time for us to visit our Beauty Shop. That's where we get a woman's perspective on what's happening. Today, we're going to talk about those political ads featuring the Republican presidential candidates' wives. Will they help?

We'll also talk about the controversy sparked by a dictionary definition for the phrase anchor baby. Joining us to talk today, Viviana Hurtado, blogger-in-chief of the website The Wise Latina Club. Danielle Belton, the force behind the pop culture and politics blog The Black Snob. Michelle Bernard, CEO and president of the Independent Conservative Think Tank, Bernard Center for Women, Politics and Public Policy. And Mary Kate Cary, a columnist and blogger for U.S. News and World Report. She's also a former speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush.

Welcome, ladies.

UNIDENTIFIED PANELIST: Good morning.

Oh, thanks. Good morning.

Great to be here.

KEYES: Happy holidays. Happy holidays.

UNIDENTIFIED PANELIST: Yeah.

KEYES: So we're going to start with these ads with the wives of the GOP presidential candidates. Here's one featuring Rick Perry's wife.

(SOUNDBITE OF AD)

ANITA PERRY: I'm Anita Perry. We grew up in small towns, raised with Christian values, values we still believe in, and we know Washington, D.C. could use some of that.

KEYES: Ann Romney and Callista Gingrich also appear in ads this week. Mary Kate, what's the big deal with the candidates' spouses appearing in these ads? Is it a good thing?

MARY KATE CARY: Oh, yeah. I think it's one more insight into these people running for office. I think spouses are fair game. If you think back, the last election cycle - a lot of people decided who they were voting for based on, for example, Hillary Clinton. If she had won, Bill Clinton would have been first gentleman. That was a legitimate thing to discuss. How would that work? Would he really let her be in charge?

KEYES: Right.

CARY: So I think spouses are helpful in making the decision of who you're going to support.

KEYES: Michelle, do you think it's a coincidence that all of these ads are appearing all around the same time?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MICHELLE BERNARD: There is no such thing as a coincidence, in my opinion.

UNIDENTIFIED PANELIST: No, no.

BERNARD: But, you know, it's really interesting because, typically, I mean obviously we are electing the president, not the first lady, but people really do get very involved in who the first lady might be, what she looks like, what her personality is like. Will she be more like Hillary Clinton or will she be more like Laura Bush or will she be more like Jackie O? And so it's really interesting to see all of these commercials at this very special time of year and to watch the images and the way prospective first ladies are portrayed so the American public can make a decision. Do we like your husband? And just as importantly, do we like you?

UNIDENTIFIED PANELIST: And do we want to see you in that house?

Exactly.

CARY: I think it has a lot to do with the evolution of the office and that the first lady has gotten more and more involved with various platforms and issues and, you know, as things evolve, I think that's fair.

UNIDENTIFIED PANELIST: Absolutely.

KEYES: That was Mary Kate, by the way. Danielle, do you think voters will be swayed by a candidate's spouse?

DANIELLE BELTON: I definitely think a candidate's spouse has a lot of influence. I mean, I always kind of joke, the reason to roll out the wives is it's proof that at least one person in the world can actually stand you.

KEYES: Wow.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BELTON: Because, you know, when it all goes bad, you know, it's like at least there's like there's - you know that's one vote. One vote that's going to come through every time, you hope.

UNIDENTIFIED PANELIST: Wait. Or she's pretending that she likes you.

Right.

And then waiting 10 years to vanish. Oh, wait. That's Kobe.

Exactly.

VIVIANA HURTADO: Right, right. And just think, ladies, about the added elements that these women bring to these candidates or the president himself. I mean, in the case of Michelle Obama, where President Obama has been criticized for being detached and kind of being like Mr. Spock; Michelle, on the other hand, is just fresh. She's so warm. She's reading to children and she's doing it all, you know, while being a mom and being a wife and being a daughter and looking fabulous, whether she dresses in Missoni from Target or Missoni from Bergdorf Goodman.

KEYES: But Viviana, do you think there's any way that these ads could backfire and sort of frighten some people?

HURTADO: Absolutely. And the reason for that is because - I think about all of us - it's a double-edged sword in this media culture that we live in that is just magnified a bazillion times by social media, Facebook and Twitter leading the pack. And so people are - have more opportunities to scrutinize. And most importantly, in the case of Twitter and Facebook, they've got more opportunity to fight back against an image that is being portrayed because that's exactly what it is, an image. And I think in this culture, people really want to see what's real.

BERNARD: Well, can I just add, also - I mean, let's face it...

KEYES: This is Michelle.

BERNARD: This is Michelle speaking. There's a double standard in how we look at women versus how we look at and judge men. You never, for example, hear someone say, look at that horrible comb-over.

UNIDENTIFIED PANELIST: That's true.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROSSTALK)

BERNARD: Or look at how his belly hangs over the pants, you know, but when you are a woman in politics or a prospective first lady, you know people are going to judge your clothes. They're going to judge your hair. They're going to judge whether you are warm or whether you're cold. Do you look like a Stepford wife or do you look like someone who shops in Target?

UNIDENTIFIED PANELIST: Whether your lip gloss is too shiny.

BERNARD: Exactly, exactly, exactly. So people are fickle and this could be a good thing for some of these women and it could be a really bad thing for others.

KEYES: Mary Kate, any thoughts on why we're not seeing Michele Bachmann's husband in any ads?

CARY: Well, I've been wondering that. I think it's a little odd because, like we said, with Hillary Clinton everybody saw Bill Clinton campaigning for her. He's really been kind of a non-presence, and we also haven't seen some of her foster kids and her real kids. Like, I think that's part of her package. The fact that she brought all these children into their family says volumes to me about her and I'm kind of curious about that. I'd love to see them.

BERNARD: See, I - Michelle speaking - I actually – I think strategically it really makes sense that we don't see Michele Bachmann's husband anywhere. I think after hearing so much about the first dude from Sarah Palin...

UNIDENTIFIED PANELIST: I was going to say, do you think it's a reaction to that?

BERNARD: ...you know, from four years ago.

UNIDENTIFIED PANELIST: People thought she kind of used her kids as a prop.

BERNARD: Yeah. I think it's a reaction that...

UNIDENTIFIED PANELIST: A calculated decision.

KEYES: All right, ladies. We're going to move on. Senator John McCain's daughter, Meghan, was on MSNBC earlier this week speaking about wives and she had a few choice words for one in particular. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF MSNBC BROADCAST)

MEGHAN MCCAIN: I do think (unintelligible) the power of a woman standing next to a man - I mean I just know from my personal experience, the fact that my mother was a second wife was a big issue for voters, and the fact that the Obamas just had one marriage together and seems very much in love and seems very much partners with the fist bumping had, in my opinion, a lot of impact, and I do think, as much as you don't like talking about Callista Gingrich, the fact that she is his third wife and a mistress and coming off somewhat icy and (unintelligible) her, you know, reputation for being somewhat controversial within that campaign, is doing damage.

KEYES: Danielle, setting aside the whole fist bump thing, which I recall caused some drama, what do you think about that?

BELTON: You know, I feel like Meghan has a point here, I mean, especially coming from experience. Her mother did receive a lot of criticism because she was the second wife, and Callista is a third. I'm always of the mind that it shouldn't necessarily, you know, matter if you're a third or second or first wife. I mean you're the wife. You're married, it's legit. It shouldn't be anybody's business what your marital situation, the history of it is, in a political campaign. The problem with Gingrich is that it's been all over the place, it's been talked about ad nauseum. It's everywhere. It's really hard to avoid the whole issue, the fact that everyone knows how she ended up in that marriage. And some people are going to make it an issue. It's, you know, it's a reality.

KEYES: Viviana, there are so many people out there that have been married more than once. Do you think they're insulted by this?

HURTADO: I think the issue is who we're talking about. And right now, ahead of Iowa and the big caucus and primary push, we're really looking at the social conservatives that these candidates have to win over. I think the thing that happens with Callista Gingrich is – and Newt Gingrich as well – is this narrative they have managed to build and to promote. I remember I ran into them at the Basilica a couple of years ago when I was shooting this story, and they (unintelligible) perfecto Catholicos, I mean perfect Catholics in pressed clothes, singing in the choir. And I think this is where people, again, going back to what's real and what's not, I think this is what's really under scrutiny.

KEYES: Michelle, what do you think?

BERNARD: You know, I'm listening to the conversation and what I am thinking is probably not nearly as nice as what everyone else is thinking, but you know...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER AND CROSSTALK)

BERNARD: Well, I'm listening to everyone speak thinking this is the era of men behaving badly. We have had one male politician after another, whether they are Democratic or Republican, over the last few years who have been involved in all types of sordid affairs, and you have to ask yourself, if there a possibility that the American public has become so numb to this that either it doesn't really matter at all or it will matter and people will not really look at Callista Gingrich as the former mistress but look at Newt Gingrich and either decide he is a repentant sinner or he is someone who can't be saved and we don't want him to lead the nation.

KEYES: Mary Kate looks amused.

CARY: I am amused. I agree with Michelle. I think that if you're talking about divorce, that's one thing. Because we all know people whose lives have just sort of fallen apart or whatever. But if you're talking about cheating, that's another. And if this sort of behavior is an indicator that the rules don't apply to me, that's what we're talking about here. I think a lot of these men this year of men behaving badly, the bigger problem is they don't think the rules apply to them.

UNIDENTIFIED PANELIST: Exact - and it is a question of character.

Right. And that's what's feeding the voter distrust, is that attitude of everybody but me.

KEYES: If...

BERNARD: And the character - if I can just jump in, Viviana. The whole character issue when it comes to governing and the standards that you have as you conduct yourself in political life and in business, and that's been a problem for Gingrich.

KEYES: Let me jump in and say, if you're just joining us, I'm Allison Keyes. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News and we are in the Beauty Shop talking about everything going on in news and pop culture this week. We have Viviana Hurtado, Michelle Bernard, Danielle Belton and Mary Kate Cary with us.

Let's move on to another topic that's been a little polarizing in political circles. It has to do with the language used when talking about immigration issues. The term anchor baby. It was added to the American Heritage Dictionary last month and defined as, quote, "a child born to a non-citizen mother in a country that grants automatic citizenship to children born on its soil, especially such a child born to parents seeking to secure eventual citizenship for themselves and often other members of their family."

But immigration advocates took issue with the fact that the dictionary didn't stipulate that the phrase is offensive. The American Heritage Dictionary did eventually revise its definition.

Viviana, you wrote a post about this for Latina magazine's website, saying it was necessary to mark the term as pejorative. Why?

HURTADO: Allison, what happened was after this kind of broke open, it was really in response to the blogosphere and to people in the community who said this is just unacceptable. Basically what happened is it's not an issue to have included anchor baby in the dictionary. In fact, hundreds of words are included with every new edition.

The thing about it is that these words are marked. They're given some kind of a context. For example, pejorative. And it gives some kind of political and social context. That's important because if not, it makes it - it seems as if this word exists in some neutral vacuums. For example, soap or microphone. It doesn't.

And what was really, I think, appalling for me is that the editors, who are social gatekeepers the way journalists are and the way leaders are, they have - we all have a responsibility to use words, because words matter. Words have power. And it's not just, say, editors of dictionaries or journalists or our political leaders. It's all of us.

I think about how I hear young women refer to other women as witches, witch - the B-...

UNIDENTIFIED PANELIST: Exactly.

HURTADO: ...word that rhymes with witches. Or when I see African-American men refer to each other with the N-word. We need to think about what the significance is, historical, political and social...

UNIDENTIFIED PANELIST: But you know...

HURTADO: ...of the words we use.

UNIDENTIFIED PANELIST: But, you know, Viviana, there's been some pushback. Michelle, Fox News accused the folks at American Heritage of basically capitulating to special interest groups that are trying to sway the cultural landscape. They said that they were not being objective, briefly.

And I would venture to guess that the people at Fox News who made that comment - if they were ever to feel as if they were a special interest group, they would see things differently. It is a pejorative term. The people who started using this term used it in a negative way for purposeful reasons, and you know, I have to disagree with Fox on this. I think that it was a huge mistake, initially, not to put in the term pejorative so that people understand that this is not a positive term. It's a very negative term, and quite frankly, it's very offensive.

KEYES: Briefly, Mary Kate. Sorry, Danielle. Coming to you in a second. Briefly, Mary Kate.

BELTON: Okay.

CARY: Here's where I come out as a speech writer, is I feel like this whole immigration debate - the terms are - some of these terms are very new. For example, electrified fence is clearly offensive and not around four months ago. You know, anchor baby I think is offensive, but you know, it's evolved. Illegal alien didn't use to be offensive. It is now. Now it's undocumented workers.

So the language is changing very quickly and what wasn't pejorative is now and I think that might be part of what happened here with some of these editors. I don't assign them evil motives. I think that they were corrected. They fixed it and, you know, it should be pejorative. It should be labeled that way.

But a year ago, did we have the term anchor baby? Probably not.

KEYES: Danielle.

BELTON: I just find that anchor baby to me is just as offensive a pejorative in a political sense as welfare queen was used in the '80s towards poor African-American women. I don't see a way to spin a neutral context on it, considering how it historically has been used in its brief history. I don't understand how oversight - you've got to be pretty out of touch or just tone deaf to not, you know, get that that's how the term had been used.

KEYES: All right. We're going to move on one more time to the NBA, which is coming back on Christmas for some of us. But we're talking about Kobe's divorce. His wife Vanessa filed for divorce late last week, citing irreconcilable differences. You know, they've been married for 10 years. There was that whole issue with that woman a few years ago.

But I wonder - Kobe bought her a $4 million ring after his sexual assault scandal in 2003. Should she get to keep it, Michelle?

BERNARD: I don't know if she should get to keep it. The question is, will she want to keep it? Will she want any reminder of him? Who knows what has happened...

KEYES: A purple diamond. Come on.

BERNARD: ...in this marriage. I don't know. I, personally, wouldn't want it.

KEYES: Danielle?

BELTON: It's a community property state. I imagine, you know, it'll get liquidated down. She'll probably sell it and they'll split it half and half.

KEYES: Viviana, what do you think?

HURTADO: I say sell it and move to a place that has an offshore banking system.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED PANELIST: Going back to something that Michelle said earlier about the double standard toward women, I think it was quite amazing the way the media portrayed this, Vanessa Bryant, as being a gold digger. Just even the LA Times had a headline, experts say Bryant's wife stands to make, quote, "windfall" in divorce.

It's just incredible to me that - why is it, again, going back to what Michelle was saying earlier, that women are treated to one standard and men to another? I found that very offensive.

KEYES: Mary Kate, really quick.

CARY: Yeah. It sounds like it's just a matter of law. It's a community property state. They've been married more than 10 years. I don't see how that makes her a gold digger. It's 50-50. If he was concerned about that, he should have signed a pre-nup.

KEYES: It's interesting that you are all concerned about the way she's being portrayed. There were some gossip sites that actually accused her of being icy, just like...

UNIDENTIFIED PANELIST: There's that word again.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER AND CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED PANELIST: Why does that keep happening, I wonder.

The word of the week.

KEYES: Yeah. And just because you're icy, does that not mean that you deserve some fairness from the person to whom you're married?

UNIDENTIFIED PANELIST: Icily challenged...

BELTON: This is Danielle. I'd be icy too if I was married to Kobe Bryant.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

KEYES: On that note, we've got to go. We've got to go. Viviana Hurtado is blogger-in-chief at the website The Wise Latina Club. She was kind enough to join us from member – from the Georgia Public Broadcasting in Atlanta. Danielle Belton is The Black Snob, the pop culture and politics blog. She joined us from St. Louis, Missouri. And here in Washington, Michelle Bernard, CEO and president of the Bernard Center for Women, Politics and Public Policy, an independent think tank. And Mary Kate Cary is columnist and blogger for U.S. News and World Report. She's also a former speechwriter for former President George H.W. Bush.

Ladies, thanks, as always.

UNIDENTIFIED PANELIST: Thank you.

Glad to be here.

Thank you. Happy holidays.

KEYES: You too.

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