President Bush’s re-election campaign yesterday expressed indignation at Teresa Heinz Kerry for suggesting that first lady Laura Bush, a former teacher, librarian and full-time mother, never “had a real job.”
“I think most Americans would agree that teaching is a real job, that being a librarian is a real job,” campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt said. “Staying home, working from the home and raising children is not only hard work, but that’s a real job also.”
In an interview in yesterday’s USA Today, Mrs. Kerry was asked whether she would be a different type of first lady than Mrs. Bush.
“I don’t know that she’s ever had a real job,” Mrs. Kerry said. “My experience is a little bit bigger because I’m older.”
Mrs. Kerry’s remarks came just one week after her husband, Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry, started a family-related flap by referring to Vice President Dick Cheney’s lesbian daughter Mary during a presidential debate. Mr. Kerry has since defended the remarks as merely an attempt to compliment the Cheneys.
In the interview, Mrs. Kerry said her words were “not a criticism of [Mrs. Bush]. It’s just, you know, what life is about.”
But the Bush campaign and the White House took it as a very direct criticism of the first lady. When various officials began to express outrage, Mrs. Kerry hastily issued an apology.
“I had forgotten that Mrs. Bush had worked as a schoolteacher and librarian, and there couldn’t be a more important job than teaching our children,” she said in a written statement.
“As someone who has been both a full-time mom and full-time in work force, I know we all have valuable experiences that shape who we are,” she added. “I appreciate and honor Mrs. Bush’s service to the country as first lady, and am sincerely sorry I had not remembered her important work in the past.”
That did not satisfy Bush campaign officials, who found it impossible to believe that Mrs. Kerry had forgotten that Mrs. Bush raised twin daughters, Jenna and Barbara, who have made high-profile campaign appearances for the president.
“The apology almost made the comment worse because she seems to have forgotten that being a mother is a real job,” said Bush adviser Karen Hughes, who gave up her full-time job at the White House two years ago to spend more time raising her son.
“Her comments threw a very inappropriate wedge between women who choose to work at home and women who choose to work outside the home,” Mrs. Hughes added on CNN. “I think most women and most men will be offended by that.”
Another Bush aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity, pointed out that Mrs. Bush has maintained a grueling schedule in support of the president since moving into the White House nearly four years ago.
“Anyone who thinks that serving as first lady isn’t a real job isn’t ready for the job themselves,” the aide said. “Does that put Mrs. Heinz Kerry in her place?”
The official went on to say that “the contrast is immense” between Mrs. Kerry, who has criticized both the president and first lady, and Mrs. Bush, who has declined opportunities to fire back at Mrs. Kerry.
Asked about Mrs. Kerry in August by The Washington Times, Mrs. Bush said she “empathized with her, because she and I really are sort of in the same club. We’re the ones who know what it’s like for your husband to run for president.”
Rather than take a shot at Mrs. Kerry for having told a journalist to “shove it,” Mrs. Bush acknowledged she had occasionally felt the urge to give a reporter a piece of her mind.
“Sure, but so far I haven’t,” she said with a chuckle.
Yesterday, her press secretary, Gordon Johndroe, tried to appear gracious toward Mrs. Kerry. He said Mrs. Bush “knows that people can have long days out on the campaign trail and that some days are more difficult than others when your husband is running for president.”
Late yesterday, Mrs. Kerry tried to telephone Mrs. Bush to apologize directly, but was told by the first lady’s chief of staff that such an apology was unnecessary.
Mrs. Kerry’s claim that the first lady never held “a real job” recalled Hillary Rodham Clinton’s disparagement of stay-at-home moms in the 1992 presidential campaign. Responding to a reporter’s question about her role as a political activist, she snapped, “Well, I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas.”
This is not the first time Mrs. Kerry made political waves with her criticism of the Bushes.
During a speech earlier this year, she remarked that the president’s re-election would result in “four more years of hell.” In September, she hinted that the Bush administration had already captured Osama bin Laden and was withholding the announcement until October to ensure the president’s re-election.
Such remarks have helped make Mrs. Kerry less popular than Mrs. Bush. According to Gallup, only 40 percent of Americans have a favorable opinion of Mrs. Kerry, compared with 74 percent who regard Mrs. Bush favorably.
Mrs. Kerry’s missteps and the Mary Cheney flap, which overshadowed what pundits regarded as an otherwise strong debate performance by the Massachusetts Democrat, apparently have helped Mr. Bush improve his standing among women since the last presidential election.
In 2000, Mr. Bush lost the female vote to Al Gore by 12 points, but this time around, most polls show women evenly split between the president and Mr. Kerry.
Mrs. Bush graduated from Southern Methodist University in 1968 and began working in a series of public elementary schools in Dallas, Houston and Austin. While teaching students in the second, third and fourth grades to read, she earned a master’s degree in library science from the University of Texas.
The day after her wedding in 1977, Mrs. Bush joined her husband’s unsuccessful campaign for Congress. Four years later, she gave birth to twin daughters, whom she raised for the next 18 years, including five she spent as first lady of Texas.
Mrs. Kerry, who was educated in Africa and Switzerland, began her career as a translator at the United Nations in New York in the early 1960s. In 1966 she married Sen. John Heinz, Pennsylvania Republican, a ketchup magnate who died in 1991.
She married Mr. Kerry in 1995 and became known as a major philanthropist. She is currently listed by Forbes magazine as one of the richest people in America, with assets of upward of $1 billion.