Wrapping Up First Ladies….

Above: Nancy, Jackie, Michelle, Barbara, Laura, Hillary,Rosalyn and Eleanor

There is a new exhibit on “First Ladies: Styles of Influence” at the George W. Bush Library and Museum on the campus of Southern Methodist University. Much of it is dedicated to the clothes first ladies chose to wear and this is what attracts most visitors’ attention.

Is this a frivolous pursuit? Or some atavistic remnant of pageantry and royalty watching? What do we really expect of our first ladies? After all we did not select them for who they were but who they “came with”. A first lady does not have an assigned job. She is not paid. She did not choose the position and is uneasy and unsure of what to do with it.

We do like our first ladies to champion some cause, preferably a benign, non-controversial one. Being interested in children’s welfare, parks and recreation, literacy or some other do-good activity is very much approved of.

Can a first lady keep her outside job? After all Jill Biden did keep hers.

If Hillary had been elected would we have expected Bill to sit home and tap visitors on the shoulder to exchange pleasantries with them?

Do we scrutinize the clothing choices of Teresa May’s husband Philip May or Angela Merkel’s husband Joaquin Sauer? Do we expect them to leave their occupations? In fact many people do not even know their names. And what of conflict of interest? Especially if a president’s family uses their influence to promote their business interests?
Perhaps in a post-feminist society the role of first lady will become obsolete and she will be allowed to pursue the activity of her choice, whether paid or not, as long as it does not conflict with the Presidency.

The Almost First Woman American President

And now we come to our most intelligent, forceful, complex and contradictory First Lady of all: Hillary Clinton.

My introduction to her was an interview she and Bill gave on 60 Minutes during their first run for the presidency. And I do mean “their” because she immediately struck me as an equal partner to the future President. It was during that campaign that we first heard the famous remark that she was not the kind of wife who stayed home and baked cookies. And Bill supported her by declaring that the American public would be getting a “two for one.”

I was very pleased with this open expression of feminism. I thought it was time for women in politics to openly assert themselves. As First Lady, Hillary had her own office in the West Wing of the White House. (Rosalyn Carter’s office was in the East Wing).

Unfortunately for Hillary, within days of becoming First Lady she was named by Bill as Head of the Task Force on Health Care Reform. This created a controversy since she was not an elected official. The task also proved to be far too complex and it failed. The problem has not been solved to this day and we are in the unenviable position of being the only advanced democracy in the world without effective universal health care insurance. Hillary continued to champion various health initiatives such as children’s health insurance, gender equality in medical issues and veterans’ illnesses.

On her many trips abroad Hillary denounced domestic violence and “honor killing.” Hillary was a great advocate for women and children’s rights and as much an activist as Eleanor Roosevelt whom she admired greatly.

Hillary Clinton’s independent spirit ultimately and very unfortunately clashed with her loyalty and support of her husband, and Bill Clinton let her down badly by having multiple and overt extramarital affairs. His conduct eventually led to his impeachment.

In an interview in 1998 Hillary referred to the Lewinski/Impeachment events as a part of “this vast right-wing conspiracy that has been conspiring against my husband since the day he announced for President.” This statement had repercussions on her credibility. Whether she really believed this or was being protective is not clear.

When it turned out that Bill had lied she continued to play the role of loyal wife. Instead of admitting to being victimized and wounded, instead of divorcing herself from the whole sordid affair, she meekly accompanied her husband on a vacation to Martha’s Vineyard.

I will stop here although much more could be said about Hillary. I will only add that I believe she would have been a good and effective President had she been elected.

First Ladies Part IV

Continuing this journey through American First Ladies, here are four more. They haven’t captured my imagination as much as those in the previous blogs, but there are interesting things to note about all of them.

Lady Bird Johnson was often ignored by her husband, but nevertheless helped promote Project Head Start as part of Lyndon Johnson’s War On Poverty. However, she is mostly associated with a Beautification Program which consisted of landscaping, flower planting and designing a more beautiful capital. She developed the National Mall and created the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden and the Children’s Garden on the White House’s south lawn. Elsewhere in the country, she promoted highway beautification and was responsible for significant amounts of floral landscaping throughout the country.


Rosalyn Carter saw herself as the adjunct to the President. She traveled everywhere with him, attended cabinet meetings, had her own office in the East Wing and liked to take part in domestic and foreign affairs discussions.


Nancy Reagan was the wife “par excellence” and seems to have been created solely for admiring Ronald Reagan. One of her other activities was promoting drug education but she was mocked for her somewhat simplistic “Just say no” approach to the problem.

Laura Bush was a steadying influence on a weak, erratic and less well-educated president. She was interested in promoting early childhood education and active in a program called “Preserve America” whose aim was to protect and celebrate our culture and national heritage. She had the misfortune of being First Lady during the 9/11 attack which cast a pall on the presidency.

Next time…Hillary.

Editors note: We encourage your comments….

Michelle Obama – First Ladies Part 3

Mom-in-Chief, Public Speaker and Fashion Icon

One has to be very versatile to combine all these roles and Michelle Obama certainly was. Confident, comfortable in who she was, normal and beyond….a beautiful combination of family and political life.

She said: I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves. This was said without bitterness but with a sort of amazement at the road she had traveled.

Michelle Obama too was a reluctant First Lady. In fact this is almost a prerequisite for a job which involves living in a Historic House with no defined role.  From the start she was aware of the limitations it would impose on her family. They could no longer step outside unaccompanied, open windows, come and go as they pleased.



In time Michelle developed her own activities.  She campaigned for a healthy life style which involved exercise and good eating habits and planted an organic vegetable garden on the grounds of the White House. She became an advocate for Veterans and military families as well.

Michelle was also a very effective public speaker. She campaigned with and for her husband and one felt that no one was writing her speeches for her. She spoke simply and honestly with sincere feeling. Like Jackie Kennedy, Michelle had a flair for clothes, knew what to wear for any occasion and became a style icon.

Gloria Steinem said of her: She has lived a public life without sacrificing her privacy and authenticity. Michelle was the first in her family to go to college and then became a lawyer. She was also a community organizer and met Barrack Obama when he was similarly engaged. In fact at that time she was his mentor at their law firm.


Both literally and figuratively, Michelle Obama cultivated her garden.

We salute Michelle Obama, our first black First Lady.





Eleanor and Jackie-First Ladies Part 2

Young Eleanor

Eleanor Roosevelt is a definitional figure for me. Whenever I am asked about my political affiliation, I say that I am a Roosevelt Democrat and by that, I mean that I share Eleanor’s political beliefs, rather than FDR’s.

Eleanor Roosevelt held the position of First Lady for just over 12 years, the longest Presidential term in history. This allowed her to develop the role to its fullest extent. In addition, she had already been politically active as First Lady of New York State.


Because of the mobility limitations on Franklin Delano Roosevelt due to his paralysis, Eleanor had more space to act as his representative and data gatherer. She learned a great deal as she traveled throughout the country and the world.

Because FDR was also openly unfaithful to her, Eleanor felt more free to chart her own way. She espoused a progressive political agenda. The issues she championed were education, alleviating poverty, women’s rights, racial equality and even defense, economics and foreign affairs.

Thanks to her, Marian Anderson the renowned black opera singer, who had been refused access to Independence Hall by the DAR because of her race, was able to sing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday, 1939 to an audience of 75,000. (video link to this historic performance is below)

Eleanor Roosevelt held 348 press conferences (Bess Truman never gave a single one) and insisted on including women reporters. From 1935 until 1962, she also wrote a syndicated newspaper column called “My Day”. This was published 6 days a week to an audience of over four million readers.

This means she created over 8,000 “blogs”. (I’m jealous)

FDR named her a delegate to the United Nations and in this capacity, she helped draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.




Had Eleanor been the president I feel sure she would never have turned back a ship of Jewish refugees who were sent back to Germany to perish in the extermination camps. She would probably also not have exiled Japanese Americans to internment camps where they languished for three years.



Jacqueline Kennedy, known as Jackie, piously declared that her priorities were raising her children and protecting their privacy, but she did far more. Jackie almost seems to have been created to redefine the role of First Lady.

In the pre-feminism days of the 1960’s, women were expected to be self-effacing but that wasn’t Jackie’s way. She was beautiful, glamorous and eminently decorative. She had a regal bearing which is apparent in her many photographs. She designed and sketched clothes and had a highly developed sense of style. She was also what the British call well-bred and well educated. She spoke and made speeches in French and Spanish.


One of her greatest achievements was the historically based restoration of the public rooms of the White House and the creation of the office of the White House Curator. At the completion of this task she gave a televised Tour of the White House which showed a sound knowledge of history.


After the assassination of John F Kennedy, Jackie staged a funeral ceremony worthy of a Greek tragedy. Who can forget the tall figure of President Charles De Gaulle marching in the procession, the lone unsaddled horse and the children with their solemn faces?

Next time…. more first ladies.


First Ladies, Who Are They?

The role of the wife of the United States President was never precisely defined. Historically, it was mostly a ceremonial role consisting of being the Hostess of the White House. The title “First Lady of the Land” was first applied by press publications to Mary Todd Lincoln. This vagueness gave our first ladies much leeway to interpret their role in their own way. And they did.

Mary Todd Lincoln

Some were indifferent. Mary Lincoln said: “I do not belong to the public. My character is wholly domestic, and the public has nothing to do with it.” Pat Nixon adopted the same traditional role and only wanted to go down in history as the wife of the President. Bess Truman kept a very low profile and admitted that she never wanted to be in that “unpleasant situation.” The same was true of Mamie Eisenhower. She too deferred to custom and kept mostly invisible and often absent.

Betty Ford

By contrast, we have Betty Ford who started out as a very reluctant First Lady but gradually warmed to the position and took important actions during her tenure. She publicly admitted her addictions to drugs and alcohol and made efforts to combat them; she also spoke openly of her breast cancer and encouraged the use of mammograms for women.

Betty Ford supported the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision of the Supreme Court to legalize abortion. She also lobbied for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment which would ensure equality before the law for women.

Lucy Hayes

I find it interesting that Lucy Hayes, who was also a traditional wife and mother nevertheless had this to say: “Woman’s mind is as strong as man’s…equal in all things and superior in some.” This was not a generally held view in the 19th century. In those days many women had no formal education.

Dolley Madison

Dolley Madison was the first president’s wife who saw her role as equally important to that of her husband. She was a successful hostess, redecorated the White House and founded a Washington DC home for orphaned girls. She exerted political influence.

During the War of 1812 when our government had to flee from the Capital, she removed the large portrait of George Washington from the wall to save it from being burned by British troops. She is also credited with saving and preserving the founding fathers’ documents.


Abigail Adams

Abigail Adams, wife of President John Adams and mother of President John Quincy Adams, was also a remarkable woman in her own right and a real partner to her husband. She had run a successful farm without slave help, seen to the education and upbringing of her many children and was also among the first to have them inoculated against smallpox.


Edith Wilson

Edith Wilson went even further in exercising power. When President Woodrow Wilson suffered a stroke she secretly took on his functions, misleading Congress and the public about his condition. Without any authority she screened his activities until his death.

Next time: More interesting First Ladies….

Macron/Trump The Leopard and the Warthog

Macron Stalks Possibilities

Warthog Trump

Emmanuel Macron and Donald Trump both ran for President of their respective countries in 2016. Both were elected. Macron was relatively unknown in France and Trump was only known as a businessman. Both ignored traditional political parties. Macron believes that the left/right divide is obsolete and Trump, though nominally a Republican, prides himself on being an independent. Both are free of ideology and Russia interfered in each of their campaigns.

Somehow Macron’s message got through even though Vladimir Putin was openly backing his opponent, the right-wing candidate Marine LePen. And this is where the similarities end. Donald Trump colluded with Vladimir Putin and had no compunction in erasing Hilary Clinton from the picture by all means available, whereas Emmanuel Macron was not afraid of accusing the Russian President of spreading false propaganda.

Emmanuel Macron is everything that Donald Trump is not. He is young (only 39), pleasant looking, has a Master’s in Public Affairs, studied philosophy, reads books and likes to discuss them. Macron also plays the piano and loves Bach and Beethoven.

Donald Trump is our oldest President at 74, sullen looking, an ignoramus and proud of it. He has probably not opened a book since he left school. In addition to his native French, Macron speaks excellent English. Trump blabs in Trumpish gibberish.
Emmanuel Macron is a good negotiator and is not afraid of making tough decisions, whereas as Chuck Schumer famously reported, negotiating with Trump is like negotiating with Jell-O.

Emmanuel Macron believes in unifying Europe, He proposes strong ties between the 27 European nations, a joint military force, a EU Intelligence Service, a EU financial transaction tax and a Europe-wide asylum process for refugees. He wants to refound Europe in close cooperation with the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel who has a slightly more cautious approach.

In contrast, Donald Trump is dividing the United States by favoring the 1% richest Americans at the expense of the working people, undermining abortion rights, appointing reactionary judges and destroying our values. In restricting immigration, he is abdicating from our traditional role of asylum, symbolized by the Statue of Liberty.

Trump’s retrenchment from foreign affairs and his abdication from the role of leader of the “Free World” is doing Macron an immense service by giving him the opportunity of stepping into that role, which he is doing very skillfully. He is negotiating economic deals with the Arab Emirate countries and solving crises in African countries. He recently visited China and when he hosted the world fight against global warming, he parodied Trump by coining the slogan, “Make the world great again”. One hundred nations joined him, but our anti-globalist president was conspicuous by his absence. Macron also hosted the Davos Economic summit where Trump struck the lone false note. When everybody was singing in unison about cooperation and coordination, Trump sang from his “America First” song book.
Why is this happening to us? Why couldn’t we too have chosen the Un-Trump?

Streaming Through Dreams

Winter Dreaming

From Biblical days to the present, people have been obsessed with deciphering dreams, mostly using them as tools to predict the future. I have a different view of dreams.

During sleep, when the normal business of the day is over and only a night watchman is left on duty, the world becomes a poorly assembled puzzle because the only entity who knows where the pieces go is absent. So the pieces rearrange themselves.

Our dreams occur during the REM (rapid eye movement) phase of our sleep. That is the time when the prefrontal cortex of our brain is deactivated, impeding logical reasoning but creating unusual associations, which some people believe are a state of precognition, a sort of sixth sense.

Dreams are elusive and evanescent, as hard to capture as a passing cloud. Our dreams are very personal and often fascinate us. Yet, dreams are difficult to share without boring people. Morpheus, god of sleep, likes to deal in riddles.

To me, dreams are tools for explaining our past and present states of mind as we try to make sense of our vision of the world. They stem from the unconscious part of our brain and represent our repressed thoughts and wishes. They serve to make our unconscious conscious by free association. Dream interpretation was reinvented at the end of the 19th century by Freud and Jung as part of the new practice of psychoanalysis.

I personally believe that our unconscious is submerged for a good reason as it allows us to go on with our lives without reliving painful situations.

We all have recurring dreams which we can recognize because even though they take different shapes, there is a common core. They often arise out of anxiety or frustration.

In one such dream I am packing for a trip but no matter how hard I try I always feel that I am forgetting something important and I know that I will never be done packing. In another common dream I am returning to a hotel but they do not know me at the desk and cannot tell me my room number. Or else there is no one at the desk to ask.

The common thread of such dreams is impotence and one is happy to return to the real world where action seems possible.

Happy 96th Birthday To Our Author




January 14, 2018


From the Editor…..

I just wanted to celebrate a little bit with you on the occasion of Simone’s 96th Birthday. It is nice to know how many of you appreciate her marvelous mind.

Simone loves your comments of all kinds, so please take a moment to respond whenever you can. Your energy makes the blog better.

Upcoming post: Dreams and Dreaming

Irl Cramer






Jerusalem, City of Peace

“If I forget thee O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her
cunning, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth”
-Psalm 137

Jerusalem has been Israel’s capital since the days of the Bible and Jews have prayed to remember Jerusalem for 3,000 years. It was King David who, at the sound of the trumpet, brought the Ark of the Covenant to a tabernacle in Jerusalem.

Today it is also the capital of Israel. Much as I cringe at the idea of agreeing with Trump on anything, he just accidentally happens to be right. The Knesset (Parliament) is there. So is the Prime Minister’s Office as is the U.S. Consulate. In 1995 the Congress of the United States passed a bill calling for the U.S. Embassy to be moved to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. Successive presidents did not act on this bill for fear of offending the Arab Community.

Jerusalem’s name means City of Peace. It is sacred to the three great religions. To the Jews it is the site of the original Temple. For the Christians it is the city of the Crucifixion. It is also the third most sacred city of Islam  after Mecca and Medina.

But instead of peace, it has known bloodshed, strife and conflict and all the crimes mankind commits in the name of religion. For centuries Israel has striven to regain its statehood (lost in many conflicts) and the day finally arrived after more than 1000 years, when the United Nations recognized the State of Israel on May 14, 1948. What followed was an immediate invasion of the country by the armies of Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. In July 1949, after Israel defeated the combined attack, an armistice was signed, and Jerusalem was divided between  Jordan and Israel. Henceforth Jews were not allowed on their sacred Temple Mount. It was only after the Six-Day War in June 1967 that Israel, in a stunning victory,  captured the Sinai Peninsula (which it has now returned to Egypt) the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip (which Egypt did not want to take back), the West Bank of the Jordan and the whole of Jerusalem which it has administered ever since.

There have been many aborted negotiations about the creation of two states, the status of Jerusalem and the problem of the refugees who fled or were chased out during the wars. No solution has been reached. Neither the West Bank nor the Gaza Strip wants to recognize the state of Israel. Israel cannot incorporate them into a bi-national state for fear of losing its Jewish identity, with the Jews becoming a minority in their own country.

Israel is also determined never to let go of Jerusalem again. Its administration of (mostly Arab) East Jerusalem has been called neglectful (another contentious topic). The situation is complicated by the fact that Benjamin Netanyahu’s regime is plagued by corruption and he may be replaced in the near future. Add to that the Saudi-Iranian rivalry and jockeying for power in the region and you have a very volatile mix And now our blindfolded, lumbering President has blundered into this shaky terrain where an avalanche could happen at the slightest misstep. Hold on tight for 2018.