When spouses are both in politics

I’m not necessarily referring to Bill and Hillary Clinton and whether his actions, both while governing and personally (think Monica) should be fair game if Hillary decides to run.  I’m thinking today about David Barron and his wife, Juliette Kayyem, who is running for the Democratic nomination for Governor of Massachusetts.  I happen to be a Kayyem supporter although she is fighting an uphill battle.  And I wonder if it just got even more uphill.

David Barron was just confirmed to the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals which is New England.  His nomination was held up because he is the author of the infamous “drone” memo.  The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza had an interesting piece about Barron and the memo today.

On July 16, 2010, David J. Barron, a lawyer at the Department of Justice, sent Eric Holder, the Attorney General, a lengthy memorandum. Barron, who had celebrated his forty-third birthday earlier that month, was a professor at Harvard Law School, on leave for a couple years to work for President Barack Obama. Barron, like many young lawyers who arrived in Washington with the new Administration in 2009, had impeccable liberal credentials. As a Harvard undergraduate on the Crimson, the campus newspaper, he wrote sympathetic pieces about Jesse Jackson’s 1988 Presidential campaign. During the summer of 1993, before his third year at Harvard Law School, he interned with the N.A.A.C.P. in Washington. After graduating, he clerked for Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, a leader of the court’s liberal wing, and then worked in the Clinton Justice Department. During the Bush years, he was a relatively prominent critic of the Administration’s national-security polices, especially its embrace of torture.

In 2006, while Bush’s Justice Department lawyers were tweaking a new legal regime allowing for bulk-collection surveillance and what they called “enhanced interrogation,” Barron helped review the bylaws of the Botanic Gardens Children’s Center. As a professor in Cambridge, he raised money for the campaign of Deval Patrick, who has been governor of Massachusetts since 2007. That same year, 2007, he even attended the YearlyKos convention, a sort of South by Southwest for left-leaning bloggers and activists trying to push the Democratic Party in a more unabashedly progressive direction. During his legal career, he has signed amicus-curiae briefs in several highly political cases, including one defending a living-wage ordinance in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and another defending a major campaign-finance reform law. In 2008, during an NPR interview, he mused that articles of impeachment could be justified against a President who purposely misled the country into war.

 

Juliette Kayyem

Juliette Kayyem

His wife has similar liberal credentials.  I first met her right after the World Trade Center bombings.  Everyone was in a panic about the possibility of more incidents, about loss of civil liberties, the prospect of some kind of martial law, and whether we were safe.  I can’t remember the exact words she used, but she was reassuring with ideas that one did not have to curtail civil liberties to combat terrorism.  After that I read her column in the Boston Globe and found, for the most part, that she had a pretty commonsense approach to things.  But I know that a number of supporters of other Democratic candidates want to tar her with the David Barron’s memo justifying the drone strike that killed an American citizen living in Yemen and involved in terrorism.

His July, 2010, missive, which was one of the last that he wrote during his eighteen months running O.L.C., was historic and—to many—troubling: yes, Barron argued, the President of the United States could kill an American citizen named Anwar al-Awlaki. And, as a rule, the memo argued, the President could kill any American citizen abroad connected to Al Qaeda or an associated group—without a trial or other legal proceedings—if he deemed that person an imminent threat.

This post is not meant to debate the memo or whether we should have killed Anwar al-Awlaki without a trial, but whether Barron’s memo is fair game for his wife’s political opponents.  None of us know what he wrote or what kind of justification he used:  We only know that al-Awalki is dead.  We don’t know if Kayyem agreed with what he wrote or if she even knows any more about the contents of the memo than the rest of us.  I do know the fact that he wrote has already been raised against her.  It is likely that if she does manage to get the nomination that some part of the progressive community will not work for her.

Boston Magazine has already raised the question.  The article opens

Gubernatorial candidate Juliette Kayyem has run into some trouble with Massachusetts Democrats over what some characterize as hawkish views on the use of tough measures in the cause of national security, her area of expertise. So, with the Democratic state convention less than six weeks away, she probably doesn’t need the trouble that’s stirring up around her husband on the issue—regardless of how irrelevant it may be to her, and how she might run the Commonwealth.

And ends with this.

None of which, of course, should have anything to do with supporting Kayyem for governor. They’re not her memos; it’s not her decision whether to release them; it’s not her nomination. But with her gubernatorial campaign hinging on what those delegates do in mid-June, this is probably a distraction she would rather have behind her.

We need to think about what happens when both spouses are politically involved.  Are they two people or do they only count as one person?  Should we assume that they agree on everything?  Are they responsible for each other’s actions?  I don’t have the answers, but we have to think about these things as we are going to see more political couples like the Clintons and like Juliette Kayyem and David Barron.

Photograph: Boston.com

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