Don't Call Me Cookie

Laura Bush, left, and Teresa Heinz Kerry AP

Dotty Lynch is the Senior Political Editor for CBS News. E-mail your questions and comments to Political Points

Teresa's Pumpkin Spice vs. Laura's Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk. Cookies are the latest gimmick in campaign '04. Family Circle magazine started a First Ladies' Cookie competition in 1992 after Hillary Clinton's famous proclamation about not being a wife who sat at home and baked cookies and had teas.

Some homemakers were outraged and Hillary had to eat crow and bake cookies to prove her feminine bona fides. One nice thing about the 21st century is how far we've come on the cookie front and how neither Laura nor Teresa has to apologize for baking or not baking cookies or for being themselves.

In a delightful interview with CBS News' Byron Pitts this week, Mrs. Heinz Kerry showed her outspoken, playful and very charming stuff. At 65, she would be the oldest first lady in U.S. history, and with net assets of $500 million from her late husband, she is a modern-day Martha Washington. After a Washington Post style section piece last year that included some very frank statements by Heinz-Kerry, pundits had a field day predicting she would demolish the campaign. However, so far she has been a trooper, slogging through the snows of Iowa and New Hampshire and generating more awe than shock.

She appeared in the Kerry campaign's $25 million bio-ad buy referring to her husband as having "generosity of spirit." Kerry adviser Tad Devine said he was blown away by the off-the-cuff phrase. "We would never have come up with a line like that," he said.

Laura Bush is also appearing in ads with her husband and has her own spots on education on the Web. This week, she's off campaigning solo at rallies in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Minnesota and talking issues. Mrs. Bush is the strong, sweet type who, with her smile and confidence, seems to keep her rambunctious husband and daughters in line. Where Teresa provides a wild earthiness to the reserved Kerry, Laura is the one who tames the more spontaneous Bush.

There are those who thought Laura Bush would be a throwback to the pre-Hillary years, when a wife knew that her place was in the East, not the West, wing of the White House But Laura Bush has carved out a role of her own. She has traveled abroad and has said she wants to go to Afghanistan and Iraq. She also seems a tad more moderate than her husband on social issues, although last week she gave interviews to all the networks opposing – nicely, but firmly – Nancy Reagan's position on using embryonic stem cells for medical research. .

Both the Bush and Kerry campaigns have strong women at the top. Karen Hughes, who unapologetically left the president's side to relocate her family back to Texas, will be back full time in August. Kerry campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill is a tough-as-nails Mother Superior. She runs the campaign with a firm hand and has her troops terrified of speaking to reporters without authorization. The communications departments of both campaigns are headed by women: Nicolle Devenish for Bush-Cheney and Stephanie Cutter for Kerry. None of these women appear to have much time for baking right now, but talk wistfully about making time for real life later on.

Donna Brazile, Al Gore's campaign manager in 2000, is so comfortable about cooking that she named her memoirs "Cooking With Grease, Stirring the Pots in American Politics." And each chapter begins with a recipe or meal that is a political metaphor. Her chapter titles – Garlic Grits, Jambalaya, Smothered Chicken and Stuffed Po' Boys – give the book texture and spice without being cutesy. "Chapter 14. Dirty Rice: Louisianans like their rice and their politics the same way – colorful and dirty. I didn't realize just how down and dirty the electoral process could become…."

You get the drift.

Brazile is gutsy and her book describes hard times and tough battles inside campaigns, as well as against Republicans. She is a hardball pol as well as a nurturing woman, and her book is a reflection of both.

Women still have a way to go in politics but the past few years have seen a new mold evolve. These gals don't want to be called cookie, but they don't mind baking them and letting the world know they enjoy it.
  • Joel Roberts

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