After a long presidential primary season, with the general election still to come, I'd decided I wanted no more of politics. The role of money, negative campaigning, and media coverage of (as far as I was concerned) non-issues, and an e-mail in-box filled with reports of the latest outrage committed by whichever candidate the sender opposed had turned me off the whole process.
Then I read Connie Schultz's ...And His Lovely Wife: A Memoir from the Woman Beside the Man, an account of the year spent with her husband, Sherrod Brown, in his 2006 campaign for the United States Senate, and my cynicism disappeared.
Schultz, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, had been married to Brown, a U. S. Representative from Ohio, for just over two years when Brown told her he wanted to run for the Senate against a popular incumbent. They agreed that he would run as an "unapologetic progressive"; that he would run a statewide campaign and would fight back against any attack ads; and that their marriage would remain a priority.
But the day after taking leave from her job, less than two months into the campaign, Schultz wrote in her journal, "WHAT'S TO BECOME OF ME?" She knew that her career, her marriage, and her very identity as a writer and as a feminist would be threatened—that as the spouse of a candidate, she would go from "being a woman paid to give her opinion to a wife spouting her husband's views everywhere she went." That she shared most of Brown's views was little consolation when she was repeatedly introduced on the campaign circuit as "his lovely wife."
Schultz discovered, however, that she could "write [her] own playbook."
I didn't have to follow someone else's rules on how to be a political wife. In fact, I could just keep on being Sherrod's wife and do what I have always done: talk to people, take notes, and share their stories—and my own...The road up ahead offered a lighted path I couldn't see when I was way back there, wallowing in all that fear.
The author takes the reader behind the scenes of a campaign in an uphill race for national office: the intense (and necessary) fundraising efforts, the hectic schedules, the friendships begun and those threatened, and the challenges of dealing with the press (the Plain Dealer endorsed Brown's opponent). Especially interesting is her discussion of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) and the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) in affording financial backing to their respective candidates. In a chapter entitled "Karl Rove's Blunder," she details a turning point, the DSCC's funding of a response to an attack ad—one which used a "doctored version" of the burning Twin Towers—run on television by Brown's opponent at the urging of Karl Rove. "Long before a single vote had been counted," she writes, "we'd already won."
Far from being just "his lovely wife," Schultz was an integral part of her husband's campaign. She not only served as his fashion coordinator (which included telling the director of his TV commercials that Brown didn't have a "power suit"), monitored his health, and appeared with him at campaign events. But she always spoke for him in her own voice. For me, the most moving part of the book comes when she is once more introduced as "'Sherrod Brown's wife...one of those women who won't change her name...'" (Confession: I, too, retained my name upon marrying; nevertheless, when I came across Sherrod Brown's name the first time, I flipped back to the cover to note with surprise that Connie Schultz hadn't changed her name!) In the speech following that introduction, Schultz explained that she has kept the name given to her by her father, a blue-collar worker, and that "one of the reasons I fell in love with Sherrod Brown was because he has spent his entire career fighting for the people I come from."
Following Brown's election to the Senate, Schultz returned to her position as columnist at the Plain Dealer, where she continues to express her own opinion, to the dismay of some readers. In response to an e-mail insisting that, as the wife of an elected official, she has no business writing a newspaper column, she replied that marriage "does not suck the brain out of a woman or render her incapable of an independent thought." This statement alone might indicate why Schultz was an asset to the campaign.
...And His Lovely Wife is instructive, touching, funny, and inspiring. Calling herself "everywife," Schultz says that "[u]timately, this is a story about a marriage" that is tested and changed by eleven months of public scrutiny. It is also a story of a political campaign run by positive people in a positive way—an excellent book to read during a long campaign season.
Connie Schultz writes a syndicated column for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. She won the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary 2005; in 2003, she was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in feature writing for her series "The Burden of Innocence," which led to the freeing of a man convicted and imprisoned for a rape he did not commit. Her first book, Life Happens—And Other Unavoidable Truths, a collection of her previously published columns, was published in 2006. ...And His Lovely Wife was originally published in 2007; a trade paper edition with new preface by the author was published in 2008. Her columns are archived on-line; you can also visit her blog.
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