Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Ladies of the First Order

A couple weeks ago here we conducted an unofficial survey inspired by this gorgeous shot of Ms. Obama: "Who is your favorite First Spouse?" Although the question was ostensibly about the spouses of any world leaders, all of the answers that I received - and that I could think of - focused on First Ladies (with a few hypotheticals for a former president). The results:

Michelle Obama as the overwhelming winner
Eleanor Roosevelt
Betty Ford
Lady Bird Johnson
JaneAbigail Adams

Honorable mentions were also given to Jacqueline Kennedy-Onassis, Hillary Clinton, Barbara Bush, and Laura Bush.

Personally, since Obama is from my hometown and went to my high school - ten years earlier, I should add solely because I have a hard time letting go of my youth - I feel a personal connection to her. But even beyond that, I find her to be remarkably strong - like Ms. Rodham-Clinton herself - but with an intelligent grace rarely seen even amongst the First Lady Club.

I was within the Chrisitan Right during the Clinton years, and I heard some naughty, ugly accusations against the then-first lady - including that she had an affair connecting to a bad investment gone haywire and the whole scandal was covered up in murder made to look like suicide. I don't think it's fair to compare the travails of the oppressed - even the wealthy ones such as Obama and Rodham-Clinton, so I'll refrain from saying who has it worse. That would be, after all, playing into the thugs' hands.

Having said that, outside of personal preference, I would have to go with Eleanor Roosevelt as the greatest first lady of all time, and one of the better, high-profile leaders in the US.

She came from a fabled aristocratoc family, the Roosevelts (Theodore was her uncle and Franklin was a fifth cousin), but since she lost both of her parents at an early age and realized that she could not rely on her loks to garner her attention, Eleanor became a force to reckon with. It was through this that she was able to simultaneously woo Franklin D Roosevelt and be his conscience. For one of their first dates, she took him to the slums of New York, exposing the upper-class socialite to a world he wasn't aware of before. This would send him down a decidedly different route. Although he still largely identified with the uber-wealth of his family and class, I find this a foretelling of this nation and his role in it.

Fly me to the moon...
While First Lady, Eleanor lobbied hard for the rights of the poor, minorities, and women. During WWII, she tried to prevent her husband from signing the order that set up the internment camps. She traveled extensively during the Great Depression, putting a human face on a fairly human, but still distant, Washington establishment. She met and encouraged one of the architects of the Selma bus boycott.

Ms. Roosevelt was a cheerleader for the establishment of the United Nations. And, she helped to form the Declaration of Human Rights in the fifties. Her role in that was pivotal as she was to the president in his communication efforts with the American people. Eleanor played the role of the common person, keeping high-minded scholars honest in language so that the regular citizen can understand.

Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home - so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.

Yeah, that's hot.

1 comment:

  1. Marla Abe4:41 PM

    I didn't know much about her until I visited her home in New York. She had so much courage and did what she was able to do in spite of some personal unhappiness and disappointment.


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