Apr 242002

Not many people outside the Beltway know or care who Karen P. Hughes is or how important she is to George W. Bush.

But they should. They should also know that she’s leaving her job as top White House counselor, the highest office ever officially achieved by a woman in a presidential inner circle, and that this holds special significance for the Bush White House.

Among the other things people should know about Hughes are her loves: Texas, the president and her green Mazda Miata, whose license plate reads “GO BUSH.”

And apparently her family is somewhere in there, too.

If press secretary Ari Fleischer’s briefing Tuesday afternoon was any indication, White House staffers adore the 5-foot-10 Hughes. Some reporters don’t – one that I worked with last summer dubbed her “Sasquatch” – but the president trusts her completely, and that’s what really matters.

She has worked for Bush in all three of his campaigns, serving as his primary voice to the media (Hughes herself is a former television reporter) before hiring Fleischer in the fall of 1999. She now crafts Bush’s speeches so they sound more like him and valiantly defends him against any critics.

Hughes is one of very few people in the administration who can say, “Mr. President, you’re wrong.” She is as influential as Karl Rove, the president’s top political adviser, and Andy Card, his chief of staff.

So why is she leaving? To return to Texas and spend more time at home with her family.

While that’s a noble goal, it raises questions about the role of American women in politics, and in any profession, really. Hughes’ best friend is the most powerful man in the world, and she is instrumental in shaping his image and message. Yet she chose to leave behind that power and prestige in the interest of her family.

Would a man ever do this?

For example: Fleischer got engaged over the weekend and says he’ll get married “sooner rather than later.” After he’s married and starts a family, which he says he wants, will he forgo being by the president’s side almost all day, nearly every day of the year?

It will surprise few people if his workaholism doesn’t subside once he’s married. Why this double standard?

Census bureau statistics show for the first time in nearly 25 years, the number of mothers staying at home instead of working has grown, according to an MSNBC report.

And Newsweek reported in 1997 that the average woman contributes 35.1 hours each week to domestic duties, while the average man contributes 17.4 hours.

A woman feels like she has a duty to her family over that of herself or her job, so she quits. A man thinks he has to have the job and be the provider, leaving family matters to the significant other. It’s an absurd, Leave-It-To-Beaver-ish stereotype.

And what about women in Congress? Often their husbands are seen as the true driving force behind their politics and election to office, and powerful women like Hillary Clinton of New York and Barbara Boxer of California are called “bitchy.” Men aren’t often asked if their wives are behind the scenes, influencing their decisions, and I can’t remember the last time I heard a male congressman called a “bitch” (with the possible exception of James Traficant Jr.).

One has to wonder why successful women sometimes forgo their success in lieu of their families. It isn’t the wrong decision; it’s an injustice that they feel they have to make it.

Becky is a junior studying journalism and history.

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