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Published: 10/23/2004

All women who hold "a real job," raise your hand, please

BY ROSE RUSSELL

NOW there's plenty of mud to throw on both Democratic and Republican women.

It was enough that Teresa Heinz Kerry insulted women and mothers with her snide remark about whether Laura Bush ever held "a real job."

Mrs. Bush is the mother of twin daughters. If being a parent isn't real work - really hard work - then tell me what is.

Mrs. Heinz Kerry apologized, setting the issue on the mend, if that's at all possible in this contentious presidential race. But then Karen Hughes jumped in, demonstrating how out of touch Republicans really are.

And I thought the days were over when women squabbled about whether those who remain at home, not venturing into the marketplace via commute or computer, held "real jobs."

In an interview published in Wednesday's USA Today, Mrs. Heinz Kerry, wife of Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry, was asked how she might be different from Mrs. Bush, President Bush's wife.

"Well, you know, I don't know Laura Bush. But she seems to be calm, and she has a sparkle in her eye, which is good," she began, and probably to avoid controversy, should have stopped. But she didn't.

"But I don't know that she's ever had a real job - I mean, since she's been grown up. ..."

Well, Mrs. Heinz Kerry put on a silver platter a reason for the White House to pounce. She should have known that Mrs. Bush was a public school teacher and a librarian for nine years.

Mrs. Heinz Kerry apologized. "I had forgotten that Mrs. Bush had worked as a schoolteacher and librarian, and there couldn't be a more important job than teaching our children."

Some suggest this brouhaha can turn the election on its heels and leave Senator Kerry in the dust. For those who base their presidential selection on whatever is up with the candidates' wives, maybe so.

But for voters who can see beyond the assertive Mrs. Heinz Kerry and the seemingly passive Mrs. Bush, not so.

Actually, I like Teresa Heinz Kerry. The woman has quite a personality with plenty of chutzpah. As for Laura Bush, now there's a woman who comes off as a quiet, demure personality. That's somewhat rare, I admit, among us women folk these days.

But don't let that quiet exterior fool you. Laura Bush is no patsy. She told George Bush to get a handle on his drinking problem, and he did. No weak woman issued that order. Many women are given to saying and doing what they want. Frankly, few of us, including Laura Bush, would have it any other way.

Yet Karen Hughes, President Bush's adviser, popped into the picture and muddied things up. She told CNN, "These kinds of comments are an unfortunate way to try to drive a wedge between women who work at home and women who work outside the home."

Yep. Don't disagree with her on that one.

However, in her attempt to smear Democrats, she added: "And I think it's just unfortunate to try to disparage women who have made the choice of making their families a priority."

Excuse me? Ms. Hughes couldn't have meant that women with families and who slug it out in the workplace daily have not made our families a priority, could she?

That view from a member of this administration demonstrates the thinking that permeates the Bush White House. That mindset is that unless you make the same choices as they do, your choices are less important. That's why Ms. Hughes' second response to Mrs. Heinz Kerry's second remark is as bad as the Heinz Kerry comment itself.

I'd like Ms. Hughes to tell the millions of married and single mothers who care for their families and work outside their homes that Laura Bush made the better choice by not working.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Bush was not offended. In fact, she played it down and was quite gracious about the ordeal.

"It doesn't matter to me. It was perfectly all right. She apologized and didn't really need to apologize," Mrs. Bush said. "I know how tough it is. Actually, I know those trick questions, too."

Good for her. But I still say her husband needs to go back to Texas in January.



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