The Role of the Fiery Spouse

Here’s something on which all political writers can agree: Reporting a red-hot personal beef beats covering policy any day.

And nothing beats a good catfight.

Yeah, so Rachel Nevitt, Lit. Gov. David Zuckerman’s wife, posted the above on a private friends-and-family Facebook page. The “lying, manipulative, self-serving power-hungry individual” in question is Zuckerman’s ticketmate, Molly Gray.

The political media lives for moments like this. And yes, it may well deepen the divide between Zuckerman and mainstream Democrats, which is one of the two fundamental challenges he faces in his campaign against Gov. Phil Scott. The other is Scott’s popularity.

Relations between Prog-turned-Prog/Dem Zuckerman and the Vermont Democratic Party were iffy to start with. There are too many Dems who’d rather lose — especially to Mr. Nice Guy Phil Scott — than help install a Progressive in the governorship. (After all, we gotta keep it open for when Scott retires and TJ gets his shot.)

But it says here that, even though she’s a political spouse, Nevitt is a self-actualized individual with the right to express herself without any input from Hubby Dearest.

“I shared it with family and friends,” Nevitt told me. “I thought I could share it without a bunch of men fomenting gossip. It’s sad that the media chooses to focus on trashy gossip about two people who aren’t even running against each other.”

Yes. Sad. But it’s the world we live in, not the one we desperately want to beam up to. Also, who can resist a good CATFIGHT!!?!?!!!???

Yeah, that’s the stuff.

One of the political heroes of my youth was Phil Hart, U.S. Senator from the great state of Michigan. He was a fairly garden-variety Democrat until he got a bad case of conscience over the Vietnam War, becoming an early critic of the war and his party’s own president, Lyndon Johnson.

And his wife was the real star of the family.

Jane Hart was a pilot, sailor and equestrian who wore her hair short in the days of the chemical-fueled perm. She qualified to be an astronaut in the Mercury program, but NASA decided that space travel was too dangerous for the ladies. She was a fearless advocate for peace and justice. From her New York Times obituary:

Ms. Hart, known as Janey, stood out in Washington at a time when congressional wives were expected to be ornamental. …A founding member of the National Organization for Women, and a Roman Catholic, with eight children, she once told The Chicago Daily News, “The Catholic Church is racist, and its position on birth control is ridiculous.”

In 1969 she was arrested with seven others for trying to hold an ecumenical Mass for peace inside the Pentagon. The intent, she said, was “to bring the idea of peace and love of God into this house of death.”

In 1972, after President Richard M. Nixon announced the mining of North Vietnamese harbors, Ms. Hart informed the Internal Revenue Service, by letter, that she would no longer pay income tax. “I cannot contribute one more dollar towards the purchase of more bombs and bullets,” she wrote.

Senator Hart, also a liberal, staunchly defended his wife when reporters came calling, even when the couple’s views diverged. “There is nothing pastel about Janey,” he once told reporters.

The two loved each other deeply, and respected each other completely in a time when political spouses were expected to shut up and look pretty.

Phil and Janey Hart, 1975.

Zuckerman echoes the spirit of Phil Hart when he comments on Nevitt’s post: “She gets to speak for herself.”

Damn straight. Now, was it wise for her to put something incendiary on social media and expect it to remain private? Nope. When you’re in public life, or your partner is, you’ve gotta expect that anything you say, do or write could emerge in undesirable ways. Or, as they say in the radio business, “Every mic is hot.”

Should she enjoy a reasonable expectation of privacy on a, cough, private FB page? Of course. As a political spouse, does she need to temper that expectation? Unfortunately, yes.

This shouldn’t reflect on Zuckerman at all, but unfortunately we don’t live on that planet. On Earth, politics is a snakepit. Gossip and inside info are pure gold. Conflict beats consensus every day. A good catfight is clickbait; policy discussions are a snore.

For his part, Zuckerman makes it clear that he supports Gray along with the rest of the ticket. “I have acted to elevate Molly at every turn,” he told me. “Her stated values are much more in line than either of the other contenders.” (Nice that he gave the nominal Progressive candidate, Cris Ericson, a little run.)

And Nevitt, her private post notwithstanding, might well vote for Gray. “Both candidates have yet to address the issues, and both will have to work to earn my vote,” she said, having apparently written off poor Ms. Ericson.

Nevitt has every right to express herself. She’d have that right if, instead of posting something meant for a select few, she took to the Church Street Marketplace with a bullhorn in classic Jane Hart style. Zuckerman is absolutely correct to defend her right. He will doubtless face some political blowback, because that’s the world we live in.

But he shouldn’t.


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