Eleanor Roosevelt was FDR’s eyes and ears and legs. To compensate for the president’s polio she ceaselessly toured the country and the world helping fight the Great Depression and support victory in WWII. She framed issues, formulated policy and advocated for the underprivileged.
And in addition to her political and social duties as First Lady, Ms. Roosevelt wrote, for 27 years, a daily newspaper column, “My Day;” hosted a weekly radio program; wrote two monthly magazine columns; co-chaired the WWII Office of Civil Defense with Fiorello LaGuardia; held 348 press conferences while First Lady; successfully championed the cause of the black Tuskegee Airmen to actually fight in WWII combat; and was the nation’s first delegate to the United Nations.
Another First Lady, Dolly Madison, is famous for saving George Washington’s portrait when the British burned the White House during the War of 1812.
Rosalyn Carter was the president’s personal emissary to Latin America.
Betty Ford became fearless about her addictions and founded the Betty Ford Clinic.
Barbara Bush was an undaunted force of nature.
Laura Bush led the “Ready to Read” initiative advocating for childhood literacy.
Edith Galt Wilson was the president after Woodrow’s stroke in 1919 (although most historians don’t give her very good marks for her “stewardship”).
Nancy Regan gained fame for “Just Say No,” and fiercely defending her husband against every criticism.
Lady Bird Johnson publicly helped Lyndon wage his war on poverty and waged her own war against “pollution on a stick,” better known as highway billboards.
And both Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama were very public in their role as First Ladies, although it is probably too soon for historians to fully judge their efforts.
Which brings us to today and what could be the most deadly and economically disastrous challenge in modern history: coronavirus and COVID-1. And Melania Trump.
You know, the First Lady. Melania. Trump. Barron’s mother.
The woman with three claims to fame: being Donald Trump third wife, posing nude for soft-porn magazines, and wearing a jacket shouting, “I really don’t care, do you?”
As First Lady she has espoused, ironically, a campaign against cyberbullying(!) perhaps never having read her husband’s Twitter spew; and championed a campaign labeled, “Be Best.” (For which, in 2018, she “authored” a booklet about being best. But it turned out it was nearly identical to a 2014 Federal Trade Commission booklet. When the plagiarism was reported by the Wall Street Journal, the White House attacked the Journal for its reporting and the actual facts were never denied. (Oops.)
She most recently filmed some one-minute public service announcements about coronavirus and sent out some tweets. What courage! (Anyone care to compare her “selflessness” filming a TV spot to the heroism of the average ER nurse or aide at Harbor View?)
Of course not every First Lady can be a Barbara Bush, Nancy Regan, or Lady Bird Johnson.
But in this time of death and potential economic collapse one would think a First Lady of the United States would do more than have someone on her staff send out a few tweets or read some 60-second TV scripts on the White House lawn.
Now with the Family Trump the irony never rests. So I’ll give the almost last (ironic) word here to a recent Vanity Fair magazine and their moderately acerbic commentary:
“Today, though, she found the nexus of coronavirus and her Be Best campaign to support children, tweeting, ‘While most children are at home during this challenging time, they tend to be on social media throughout the day. Parents, please be sure to check on them regularly to be sure they’re practicing online safety.’
It’s nice to see the First Lady taking seriously the danger to American children; following the President on Twitter.
God, could we use Eleanor now. Or Barbara. Or Nancy. In the White House helping our nation fight back.
‘Cause there’s no shortage of strong, smart, brave women who are fighting back. Women such as Elizabeth Warren; Nancy Pelosi; Gretchen Whitmer, Michigan governor; Lori Lightfoot, mayor of Chicago; Amy Klobuchar; Tammy Duckworth; or the tens of thousands of women working as doctors, nurses, shop clerks, delivery persons, and in all the critical jobs on the front lines of COVID-19 war.
There just aren’t any in the White House.
So I kinda wonder, will we see the First Lady’s “I really don’t care, do you?” coat again, maybe when she visits Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, N.Y. (fat chance) or in her next tv ad exhorting us to “Be Best,” as we bury our dead?
Just like her husband has failed the nation (though his ignorance, incompetence, and narcissism), Melania Trump has failed the nation at its most desperate hour.
And her “Be Best” campaign; turns out to be more Trump Family bull. And another cruel irony.
Tom Burke’s email address is email@example.com.