Jacqueline Kennedy’s White House Tour: The Political Dimensions of a First Lady

Abstract: The office of the First Lady of the United States is not inscribed in the Constitution. Nevertheless, as an institution it plays a significant role for the President of the United States (Stooksbury and Edgemon 97). This article examines A Tour of the White House with Mrs. John F. Kennedy (1962), the documentary about First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy’s restoration project, analyzing it as a cultural text. It seems controversial that—despite her major appearances in national media—Jacqueline Kennedy lacked political action during her first ladyship (Caroli 226; cf. Frey 179). The analysis exposes direct as well as indirect allusions that can be related to her husband’s administration’s domestic political agenda. Therefore, the CBS program about First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy’s supposedly apolitical cultural project of restoring the White House appears to be a platform for subtle social, cultural, and historical argumentation, supporting the president’s domestic policies and reinforcing the political importance of the first ladyship in the United States.

During the 2012 presidential election campaigns in the United States, Christine Haughney observes in her New York Times article that “[a]s the candidates for president debate in the press over weighty topics like taxes and health care, their wives are waging their own campaigns in women’s and celebrity magazines to show voters their spouses’ softer sides.” The importance of the first lady for the success of the president, however, is not only reflected in the high media coverage of twentieth-century and twenty-first-century first ladies but is also deeply rooted in the foundation and history of the United States. Considering the public presence of first ladies as portrayed in print and broadcast media, Jacqueline Kennedy’s time as First Lady of the United States has created an ongoing interest in her public persona.1 In line with Kennedy’s own statements that she had no political opinion, first lady scholars stress that “Jackie’s political interest remained very low” (Caroli 226; cf. Frey 179). However, it is questionable whether Jacqueline Kennedy’s supposed political inaction in her role as First Lady of the United States did not have political determinants, especially in the contexts of her ongoing popularity since her husband’s time in office, her multifaceted national and international cultural projects, and her professional appearance on media platforms (Natalle 63-64).

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