I caught a bit of CNN yesterday and they were making a big deal about Hillary Clinton bringing out her mother and Chelsea to campaign with her in New Hampshire. Hearing CNN talk about it, it was the greatest campaign idea ever! (Then again, CNN is the Clinton News Network.)
This campaign cycle, families have taken on much more importance. Usually, families are brought out to introduce a candidate or to stand behind them as the candidate gives a speech, but this time they've actually become key parts of the campaign. Elizabeth Edwards, for example, has come out and made statements on behalf of the campaign that John himself couldn't make because of the impact it would have on his campaign. (Of course, going after Ann Coulter while there were important issues like the war on terrorism is rarely advisable, but what do you expect from a guy who spent $400 of his campaign's money on a hair cut?) Michelle Obama has also made statements on behalf of her husband's campaign, although her comments were against candidates and positions, not against conservative authors and speakers of no real portent to the 2008 election.
Families can also be used as shields against criticism. Bill and Hillary Clintons were masters of this during his Presidency, but lately some Republicans have gotten into the act. Mike Huckabee and Rudy Guiliani have both used their families (Rudy to a lesser extent because his offspring don't much like his new wife) to deflect or blunt statements or allegations made about them. Who could continue such blistering assaults on a candidate when his family is right there behind him, supporting him? (I mean, besides me.)
In some cases, family can even become targets. Pundits have attacked Fred Thompson's wife, Jeri, as being a "trophy wife" because she's much younger and more attractive than Fred. Yet, the same statements aren't being made about Dennis Kucinich's wife, who is equally as young and attractive as Jeri. Then again, that would require the media to pay attention to Kucinich, and we know that ain't happening anytime soon...
It's not unusual for politicians to use members of their families for one reason or another, but you have to wonder how strong the family unit is that would allow itself to be used for political purposes. On the one hand, it can be said that the family is part of the candidate's life, so they should be willing to step up and do whatever is necessary to help the candidate fulfill his or her dreams. On the other, it can also be said that using family members for personal or political purposes dehumanizes the family, turning the members into mere pawns to be moved around as needed. Over time, that has to wear on a family, or at least wear on the family that recognizes what a family is supposed to be. Speaking personally, I know I wouldn't ask my mom, dad, and brothers to defend what I say on a daily basis because a) it would cause a strain on our relationship, b) they may not agree with what I say, and c) they might just tell the truth about me.
It's nice to have your family support you in a particular venture, but when politics and family mix, it can degrade the heart and soul of the latter. And an elected office just ain't worth it.