October 16, 2007

Jeri Speaks

Jeri Kehn Thompson garnered a lot of attention when her husband officially was a non-candidate for President. Now that Fred Thompson has entered the race, however, the press has mostly dropped the "trophy wife" and "May-December" narratives to focus on the race itself, and Jeri seems happy to see the spotlight dim, in a rare interview at the Joliet Herald News:

Q: In your interview last month with the Tennessean, you mentioned your mom and grandmother being hurt by some of the ugly aspects of political life. Was that a reference to the negative press?

A: Oh sure, yeah ... I think you do get a little bit used to it, because you understand if folks think that you're a threat -- either they're running, or if you're changing a system that they're not comfortable with you changing the rules with--they're going to go after whatever they think might hurt him. We knew going in that they were going to do whatever they could to throw the kitchen sink at him, to try to get him off his game. It just strengthens your resolve for what's really important. I've said before that I have a very strong and firm belief that there's a whole lot of things we're not talking about in this country that we ought to. I've got a lot of friends that have sons and daughters in Iraq - second, third, fourth trips, some of them -- and that's what's important. That's what we should be talking about.

Q: Back in July, the New York Times noted that "trophy wife" isn't really a slur, since it describes someone who made a name for herself before she was given that label. But the same piece asked rhetorically whether traditionally conservative voters are likely to embrace a 60-something candidate with a pretty wife 24 years his junior. What are your thoughts about all the attention that's being given to that?

A: I think conservative voters will vote for the conservative candidate, which he is.

Q: What I'm hearing you say is you'd rather people talk about things that are more important than a trophy wife.

A: Well, it's a rhetorical question, so I'll answer rhetorically. And in light of that, I have spent quite a few years on very conservative issues. I worked with the Republican National Committee, I worked for Sen. (Connie) Mack in Florida, in a communications capacity. I really believe in the things that Fred stands for. I believe in America. I believe in smaller government. I believe in less taxes. If that's not what people want to hear from Fred, they probably won't want to hear it from me, either.

If Jeri thinks that people aren't interested in her point of view, the new blog JeriGirls seems to argue otherwise. It links approvingly to the interview, although notes that Jeri's appearance in People could have been more forthcoming along the same lines. Laura Batson, the blogger at JeriGirls and a friend of mine, notes that Jeri shouldn't "blow the show all in one act" and instead should do exactly what's she did in this interview, which is to keep interest balanced with civility.

The demands of a presidential campaign will force Jeri more into the open eventually, but at this point the wives do not seem to have captured much attention, at least not in the Republican primary coverage in the press. Jeri had been an anomaly, and an odd one, since Fred wasn't an official candidate at the time and had not sent his wife out to do much public relations. Ann Romney has probably done more work in public than any of the other GOP spouses and didn't get half of the attention, although she has been an excellent ambassador to the Romney campaign. Rudy has had attention called to his marriages and divorces, but that seems to have mostly dissipated as well.

That will change, as Laura noted. We can expect more paparazzi treatment for the families of the candidates, which they will undoubtedly encourage while lamenting the excesses it will bring. Quieter perspectives such as the Herald News would allow people to get to know the families without nasty attacks as we saw earlier this year on Jeri.


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