Teresa Heinz did a curious thing last week. The wife of Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), a White House hopeful, changed her name to Teresa Heinz Kerry. Her husband's campaign did not deny that the move was motivated not by love but by political necessity. "There were political people who were advising the senator who were concerned it would be confusing," Heinz's spokeswoman Chris Black told The Boston Globe. Heinz will continue to use Heinz as her last name in her personal and professional life; it will change only in the context of her husband's campaign.
Such a move is troubling for several reasons. Why can't a woman spouse keep her own name in politics? Voters will know that the two are married; heavy media coverage of the campaign will take care of that. And it's not as if voters aren't used to the idea of women keeping their maiden names or names from other husbands. It's certainly OK for women officeholders -- just think of Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), whose husband is Frank Snellings, or Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who uses her now-deceased second husband's name even though she's since remarried.
Of course it's not the first time a spouse has changed her name for political reasons. Hillary Rodham became Hillary Rodham Clinton after her husband lost his re-election bid for governor in 1980. (He won the next time around.) But it's surprising that Kerry's campaign made no pretense that this was anything other than a political move. "It's another sign of his wife's support for his campaign and it pleases him greatly," Black said. How about it being a sign of Heinz's love for her husband? I'm sure that would truly please him greatly.
Heinz's decision certainly doesn't make her marriage to Kerry seem like one of a couple in love. Rather, they look like a power duo that has cut a deal so each can have what the other offers (she, the millionaire who wants to be married to a senator; he, a senator looking for a millionaire). Plus, having now changed her party affiliation -- after eight years of marriage to Kerry -- from Republican to Democrat, Heinz can at last vote for her husband in a primary.
But Heinz's name change is also troubling because it shows how much influence political handlers have. Heinz is an outspoken women. Earlier this year, she told The Boston Herald, "I'm not afraid to say what I believe . . . Do I go out to either offend or shock people? No. But some people are surprised when a -- quote -- spouse, particularly a woman, has opinions. But, you know, women have been told to shut up for centuries -- because they didn't go to school, because they didn't know how to read and write." Now, Heinz is essentially being told by advisers to shut up about being a Heinz and start talking about being a Kerry.
It's different than the Heinz-Kerry relationship we've seen in the past. Heinz has proudly carried on the legacy of her first husband, Sen. John Heinz (R-Penn.). She heads the Heinz Family Philanthropies and the Heinz Endowments. Her biography at www.johnkerry.com -- which, as of yesterday, still listed her as Teresa Heinz -- is longer than her husband's (and doesn't mention Kerry's name until the last paragraph). She's been her own person in his last two Senate campaigns -- the pair married in 1995, and he ran in 1996 and 2002 -- and he won both times. Kerry has said he can't control his wife and wouldn't want to -- a very stand-up statement from a guy who'll need the support of women to win the White House. Why, then, choose to make his wife do something she's probably not comfortable with and that sets women back?
The answer is that presidential races prevent candidates from taking any chances. Spouses are expected to be loyal soldiers in the battle for the White House. They're "part of the campaign staff, in a sense," says Susan Carroll of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. "They espouse the views of the candidates rather than one's own views." Laura Bush certainly did that in 2000. She ran as a 1950s housewife figure, someone quiet and nonoffensive. I don't know about you, but I don't exactly consider the 1950s a watershed decade for women's rights.
Like Heinz, the other women whose husbands are seeking the Democratic nomination in 2004 are not shrinking violets. Among those women are a doctor (Judith Steinberg, wife of Howard Dean), a former lawyer (Elizabeth Edwards) and a woman who once told her husband that being senator was "just a job" (Hadassah Lieberman). These women seem less like Laura Bush than like Hillary Clinton. She helped boost the role of first-lady-in-waiting in 1992, when her husband said if you voted for him, you got her for free. Despite all the flack Hillary (and Bill) took for that statement, it's brought about "a climate of increasing acceptance of fairly strong roles for women" in recent years, Carroll says.
But with this latest decision, Heinz seems to be moving away from Hillary Clinton and toward Laura Bush. It would be a shame if Heinz's legacy to the 2004 campaign was to compromise her values in the hope of getting a few more votes for her husband. If John Kerry is willing to cave to his handlers on this -- and make his wife cave, too -- it makes you wonder what else he'd cave to once he was in the White House.
Mary Lynn F. Jones is a Prospect senior editor.