Home U.S Dr. Jill Biden has 'a podium if she cares to use it'

Dr. Jill Biden has 'a podium if she cares to use it'

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Lauren Leader and Mark K. Updegrove

The sweep of history has not always been kind to First Ladies. Often ignored, dismissed and underestimated by the public in their own time and given short shrift by presidential historians in the review of past presidencies, their collective impact on our nation has never been fully appreciated. Now, as Dr. Jill Biden establishes her role as First Lady in these first 100 days of her husband’s administration, we’d do well to take her contributions seriously from the start.

Two new acclaimed biographies — historian Julia Sweig’s “Lady Bird Johnson: Hiding in Plain Sight,” and Karen Tumulty’s “The Triumph of Nancy Reagan” — are filling in overlooked history and giving these two indominable women long overdue credit for their substance and significance. Both books compel us to acknowledge how often women are written out of the picture, devaluing their impact on their husbands’ legacy and on the country.

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden waves from the top of the steps of Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Thursday, April 29, 2021.

Lady Bird Johnson, wife of President Lyndon Baines Johnson whose transformative Great Society brought sweeping extensive social change, recognized she had power. “[The job of first lady] assigns her no duties,” she said as a reminder to all who would go after her, “and yet when she gets the job, a podium is there if she cares to use it. I did.”

No one had to tell Nancy Reagan. A dozen years after Mrs. Johnson left the East Wing, she realized her own influence as her husband’s chief advocate and protector, encouraging him to forge a seminal relationship with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and hold his staff accountable for their mistakes. These contributions helped LBJ and Reagan expand the potential of their presidencies, which are widely considered to be among the most consequential in modern American history. 



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