Well, after 25 years of marriage, it appears that the party is over for Maria Shriver and former Governor-slash-celluloid he-man Arnold Schwarzenegger. The two announced their separation and I and the rest of the world are stunned. Granted, we were stunned when they first got together - she, with a political pedigree, and he with his spray butter, muscles, and Conan the Barbarian flicks. What a crazy pair!! Truth be told, we were shocked that they made it past their first wedding anniversary, but by the time they survived the seventh year, itch-free, well, we kind've took them for granted. The last time I felt this way was when Al and Tipper Gore announced the end of their 40-year marriage. My heart sank, I mean they could've split in January 2000 and spared everyone the spectacle of their infamous sloppy kiss at the 2000 Democratic National Convention! But all of this makes me think that we may be witnessing the evolution of the political marriage.
The political marriage has always been a subject of speculation for those of us who watch them from a distance. We're always looking for a magical doorway into this most intimate of relationships. Why? Mostly because we're just curious about this carefully crafted political character and wondering what percentage of what we see is an act. There are some of us, though, who want to find the weakness in a person, and where better to dig for dirt than in the backyard of their marriage.
The political marriage follows a timeworn trajectory, beginning with the dashing, ambitious young man meeting and marrying the demure, yet practical young lady, who bears him the perfect, camera-ready offspring. He begins his quest for elective life and she begins her tour of duty slogging it out in the mine-fields of campaign stops and ladies' luncheons. Along the way there are defeats, election nights where she and the kids stand supportively behind the husband-candidate while he makes a heart-felt speech thanking the troops, congratulating the other guy who won, and pledging to run again, and win the next time. And then there will be victories, and there she'll be, the political wife of a winning candidate, resplendent and shining, smiling as she stands next to her husband, passing the cherubic children to him so that he may hoist them high into the air for the cameras to see. Now, there will be tough times - when the poll numbers show how dissatisfied the voters are with her husband, or when the whispers begin about her husband and some sweet young thing, but the political wife will keep her head up, smiling broadly, clutching the hands of her little ones as she attempts to break through the gaggle of press blocking her way to the kids' elementary school. And when the indiscretion is confirmed, it will be the political wife who will stand propped up next to her husband, suffering the glare of the flashbulbs while her husband reads his prepared statement. And when he leaves elective political life, it will be the political wife who will attend to him.
I've got to admit - I'm surprised that ANY political marriages survive at all! I mean, imagine having to listen to pundits and the opinionated masses ripping apart your husband or wife in the never-ending churn of the 24-hour news cycle? Think about it! How could Laura Bush muster any romantic feeling with that dufus Will Ferrell pretending to be her husband??
And don't forget that the political marriage seems always to require sacrifice on the part of the people who weren't elected at all. Sure, Chris Matthews might grill your elected spouse like a July 4th barbecue at 5:00PM, but at 7:00PM, your spouse could get a standing ovation from the 1500 people attending a rally on his behalf! And what do you, oh loyal political spouse get in return? You get to be the single parent, attending your children's soccer games (alone!), getting dinner on the table (ALONE!), dressing yourself and the kids and rushing over to that 7:00PM rally with a smile plastered on your face so that no one knows how much that SOB getting all of that love and attention takes you completely for granted.
I say that it's about time that the Maria Shrivers and the Tipper Gores stood up and walked out. Maybe the next generation of political marriages will be based on truly equitable partnerships. We're starting to see some examples of that. The First Lady of France has kept her day job as model/singer/actress, and here in the U.S. Dr. Jill Biden is inspiring students everyday in her job as a professor. If there's one lesson to take away from the political marriage it's this - it must have balance. I'm just saying:)