Connie Schultz, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and wife of Sen. Sherrod Brown, wrote the book on navigating political spousery. Literally — it’s called “…And His Lovely Wife.” Schultz had some advice for would-be Senate wife Sarah Paley, who wrote an eyebrow-raising Vogue essay this month in which she expressed extreme reservations over her husband Bob Kerrey’s political comeback — and even jokingly urged friends to have an affair with Kerrey to derail his career.
Kerrey is trying to reclaim the Senate seat he once held in Nebraska.
Paley, a reclusive New York City native and former “Saturday Night Live” writer aired her trepidations about her husband’s re-entry into politics in the July issue of Vogue magazine. And in the last week, the piece has caused quite a stir.
“I am not a political animal,” Paley wrote. “I’m not even a social animal. My idea of a good time is when people cancel.”
Despite Paley’s requisite qualification that she supports her husband and believes he will make a good senator, the piece has garnered some tough criticism — mostly from columnists and bloggers questioning her devotion to her husband and wondering if she’s sabotaged his campaign.
The conservative news site Hot Air suggested Paley, afraid her husband might win the race, “took out a little insurance” by insulting Nebraska.
“Is this Paley being funny?” A Washington Post piece asked. “Or is it — as some critics suggested — a condescending, East Coast put-down?”
But Schultz said she appreciated Paley’s piece.
“It was clear she was trying to be funny,” Schultz, a syndicated columnist and author, told TPM.
Candidates’ wives are scrutinized in a way that doesn’t feel very 21st century, Schultz said. She believes it’s important that women like Paley — and herself — give a voice to the experience.
“The only way to change this conversation is if women like Sarah and me and other women who are married to prominent men but who also have their own life and their own careers insist that we haven’t changed because their job application has changed,” Schultz said. That Paley broached the subject with humor, Schultz said, is even better.
“When you can get people to laugh, they can understand you in a way that you never can if you’re just lecturing people,” Schultz said.
Schultz identifies with Paley’s trepidations about political life. Paley and Schultz aren’t just both writers, but they also married their politician-husbands in their mid-40s, by which time they both already had successful careers. “I appreciate the sense of humor she’s bringing to something that’s actually quite real for most of us, especially most of us who have our own careers when our husbands decide to go for higher office,” Schultz said.
Some observers seemed taken aback by Paley’s introverted tendencies, but Schultz is right there with her.
“They’re just different, people who run for office — men and women — are just built differently,” Schultz said. “I joke a lot that I thought I was an extrovert and then I met Sherrod. And then I realized, I’m an extrovert among writers. I’m not an extrovert like Sherrod.”
Schultz said she has advised more than one potential political spouse.
“You can imagine the calls I get, somebody’s gonna run for office and I hear from the spouse,” she said. Her No. 1 piece of advice: “Look, you’re at an age where you already know yourself, hold fast to who you are.” Don’t let a “paid consultant or some stranger you just met” change that.
Another pro tip: Stay close to your women friends. “I hope Sarah has that, and it sounds like she does, ‘cause that makes a huge difference in your life,” Schultz said. Paley cites some of her friends in the Vogue article who have weighed in on her husband’s campaign.
In case Paley is worried that she’s hurt her husband’s campaign, as many columnists have suggested, Schultz recommended shrugging it off. “I don’t think that anything a wife does gets her husband elected or defeated,” Schultz said. “If I were to have a bullet line for Sarah today, it would be that. This will not sink him, nor will it raise him to new heights.”
After doling out advice, Schultz also put in a request for Paley. She “would love it” if Paley wrote a piece like the Vogue article every week. “I wish she’d blog from the trail. That’s what I wish. Go Sarah, go,” Schultz said. “Finally, somebody on the campaign trail with a sense of humor!”
Pema Levy is a News Writer at TPM covering the 2012 election. Before coming to TPM, Pema was an assistant editor at The American Prospect where she wrote about politics and the economy.