On the June 17 edition of the NBC-syndicated Chris Matthews Show, host Chris Matthews, leading off the discussion topic "What are Americans looking for in their next first lady?" asked "The Matthews Meter" -- composed of 12 of his regular panelists, including June 17 panelists BBC Washington correspondent Katty Kay, Newsweek chief political correspondent Howard Fineman, and MSNBC host Tucker Carlson -- "Do Americans want to return to the Hillary model of first lady, or do they like the Laura Bush model?" All 12 panelists responded that Americans want "the Laura Bush model."
Guest Michele Norris, host of NPR's All Things Considered and the only panelist on the June 17 show who is not a participant in "The Matthews Meter," said that she did not think the question was "reflective of what you actually see on the campaign trail this year." Norris continued, "what you see are people who, who actually reflect the way many women live. They're juggling careers and kids and you see a very different kind of spouse on the road."
Unlike Kay and Carlson, Fineman identified himself as "a voter in The Matthews Meter" and added that the choice between Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush "was the only choice we were given." He then said that Michelle Obama, wife of Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), "has a chance to be something different because I think she's more comfortable in her skin" than Hillary Clinton. He continued: "Michelle Obama is a younger woman, more confident, more settled as a professional person and wife." Michelle Obama, who was born in January 1964, is 43, only one year younger than Hillary Clinton, born in October 1947, was in 1991, the year before Bill Clinton was elected president.
Carlson claimed that Michelle Obama's comments that her husband forgets to put away the butter or pick up his socks were "emasculating." He added, "[A]gain and again, she belittles her husband."
Kay stated that "Laura Bush is incredibly popular, even though her husband is unpopular. Hillary Clinton was not very popular, even when Bill Clinton had good approval ratings." Kay speculated that this was because Clinton was perceived as "too hungry for power, that she was too ambitious." In fact, though Laura Bush's favorability ratings as first lady are higher than those of Hillary Clinton when she was first lady, Hillary Clinton was still viewed favorably by a majority of the American public most of the time. (In 20 of 28 USA Today/Gallup polls conducted between 1994 and 2000, Hillary Clinton received a favorability rating of 50 percent or higher. In 23 of 28 polls, her favorability rating exceeded her unfavorability rating. She received a favorability rating of 60 percent or higher in seven of the 28 polls.)
From the June 17 edition of the NBC-syndicated Chris Matthews Show:
MATTHEWS: We put it to "The Matthews Meter," twelve of our regular panelists: "Do Americans want to return to the Hillary model of first lady, or do they like the Laura Bush model?" This amazed me. By a unanimous vote, the meter says voters prefer the Laura Bush model.
KAY: Laura Bush is incredibly popular, even though her husband is very unpopular. Hillary Clinton was not very popular, even when Bill Clinton had good approval ratings. People --
MATTHEWS: But why was she unpopular? Because she was too far to the left? --
KAY: It's not -- OK, first of all, it's not a very easy position, being first lady, or even running to be first lady, and many have been criticized for different aspects. But with Hillary Clinton, there was a feeling that she was too eager for power, that she was too ambitious, that she was trying to promote herself as being president, almost, when she hadn't been elected. They felt uncomfortable. That clip that we showed earlier in the program about how she wasn't going to stay home and bake cookies and have teas, that alienates a lot of people, and you're not going to hear her say it this time around, I'm absolutely sure of that.
MATTHEWS: Michelle -- Michelle Obama is a lawyer, she's an Ivy League grad. She's got, what, a degree from Yale Law, or Harvard or whatever, and she says she's going to continue her practice, continue to take care of her kids. Isn't she more the Hillary model?
NORRIS: I think -- I don't know that she's more the Hillary model. She's a lawyer, so they have similarities there. I think the question that was posed to The Matthews Meter -- no disrespect to those who participated in that, though -- was --
MATTHEWS: Unanimous vote.
NORRIS: Well -- but I don't think it -- it reflect -- it is reflective of what you actually see on the campaign trail this year. What you see --
MATTHEWS: Oh, good.
NORRIS: -- is a very different --
MATTHEWS: So they're wrong.
NORRIS: -- and what you see are people who, who actually reflect the way many women live. They're juggling careers and kids and you see a very different kind of spouse on the road.
KAY: It's interesting that Michelle Obama has decided to say, "I'm going to step back from my career," that she's actually taken on more of a domestic image. Talking about things like having to unblock the toilets, for example, how her husband doesn't put the butter away. She's almost deliberately promoting a much more middle-class -- the kinds of things I think women can relate to.
CARLSON: Well, let me just say, I think when she says he doesn't put his clothes away and he leaves the crumbs around, he's a pig, she is following a sitcom schtick. Tried and true. My husband, the fool. My sort of slightly out-of-it, dorky husband. I think it's emasculating, actually. I think she comes -- wait, hold on, let me --
CARLSON: Listen to me, I knew that would make you mad. But listen to what she says. She -- again and again, she belittles her husband. "My husband, he's not the savior you think he is." Bill Clinton, by contrast -- Bill Clinton never said a bad thing about his wife.
MATTHEWS: Howard, last word coming up here.
FINEMAN: As a voter in The Matthews Meter --
MATTHEWS: Yes, as one of those who voted we prefer Laura.
FINEMAN: -- that was the only choice we were given. Michelle Obama has a chance to be something different because I think she's more comfortable in her skin.
FINEMAN: Hillary, as first lady, was jumping out of her skin, saying, "I want the power" -- of course, now she's running. Michelle Obama is a younger woman, more confident, more settled as a professional person and wife.
MATTHEWS: Listening to you, Michele, I hear you say, people may want the more traditional, yesterday kind of wife, but they're not going to get that choice, because the women who are running for first lady are modern.
NORRIS: Most of them, but not all of them, not all of them. I mean, there -- you have a full spectrum here. You also have women who left their careers. You have Ann Romney, who is, I would say, probably more demure than Michelle Obama. But Michelle Obama is not talking about, when she steps out on the plank, and she's, you know, a bit sassy, it's not necessarily in terms of policies --
MATTHEWS: OK, this will go on, we'll bring this up again later.
KAY: What they don't like is when they listen to Judith Nathan saying, "I'm going to be in on Cabinet meetings." I don't think anyone in the country is saying, "Oh yeah, that's going to make me vote for [Rudy] Giuliani."
MATTHEWS: I'll be right back with scoops and predictions.