Diplomacy and Trade recently sat down with the prominent reporter, to discuss her newest book about the role and power of U.S. First Ladies.
American journalist Kati Marton is usually associated with her interest in researching Hungarian and Central and Eastern European issues such as in 'The Great Escape: Nine Jews Who Fled Hitler and Changed the World', but this time Marton placed Hidden Power: Presidential Marriages That Shaped Our History? under the microscope, and recently arrived to Budapest to showcase an all-new and all-intriguing political bestseller.
According to Marton, she has spent her past six years researching presidential marriages, and has come to the conclusion that there is more than meets the eye concerning the U.S. First Lady's role in politics. "There is no description of this duty, no written rules, so the wife of the U.S. President has to find out on her very own how to act,? Marton told Diplomacy and Trade, in a recent exclusive interview during her Budapest visit. "This book is not a chronicle of first ladies' lives but rather a study of husbands and wives being on a risky and malignant cross-road of power, love and marriage."
Marton believes that the fate of the first lady is bound to the President's. "When the Americans elect a president, they don't simply choose a man (or maybe someday a woman) to be their leader. Presidential couples come into power together, they lead and govern together and if it is their fate, they fail together. In this respect, the career of the president is the career of his wife too," Marton explained. Another aspect of being the U.S. President's wife is the lack of private lives, as the world observes their every move, 24/7. "As once Jackie Kennedy told me: In the White House there is only he and me; everyone else is observing and monitoring, even the most confidential colleague," she said. "The burdens of being a president transform the marital relationship; some are strengthened, others on the other hand are destroyed."
Marton highlights that she conducted 400 interviews for her book, including Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter, and Barbara and George Bush. In her epilogue Marton explores the marriage of Barack and Michelle Obama. "The Obamas are a modern couple; they are smart, no formality. Michelle graduated at Harvard and Princeton, but she has no political ambitions, her role is very traditional: being a mother and wife," Marton argued. Based on them, Maton said she sees the first female American president painted on the horizon, likely coming from the ranks of the Democrats. She calls it an unbelievable and historically exceptional moment when Barack and Michelle Obama proceeded to the White House. 220 years after the first American president, George Washington was elected, now an Afro-American presidential couple moved into the presidential residency. "I did not intend to collect gossips about these couples; yet I wanted to make all the chapters of the book as colorful and interesting as possible," Marton notes. "Bill Clinton, for example, was not really satisfied with what I had written about him as I was honest and I still cannot forgive him for what he did with Monica Lewinsky. His wife, Hillary is a very lonely woman; I respect and appreciate her for the career she has built from being an almost president-candidate to her current secretary of state position. However, I have to add that Bill Clinton fully supports her career," she added. Out of previous "strong" first ladies, she notices Nancy Reagan, as it was she who actually put Ronald Reagan's crew together and later on she led them. "Consequently, the most confident presidents have been such husbands, who respected their wives, asked for their advices on personal and political issues and also listened to them," concludes Marton, adding, "If the President has a strong, intelligent and brave wife who helps him to remain clear-headed even in difficult times, he himself becomes a much better leader."
Marton, whose previous book, 'The Great Escape: Nine Jews Who Fled Hitler and Changed the World,' was well-received in Hungary, says she is proud to be Hungarian under any circumstances. "Hungary is full of surprises, creativity and great ideas." She and her husband visit Hungary every year. "When we got married in Budapest, he promised we would come back each year." Also, she was posted 'patron' of the American-Hungarian Cultural Season, dubbed 'Extremely Hungary,' currently stirring New York's and Washington's cultural life. She reveals that the year-long program appears to be very successful and she hopes that by the end of the season the Americans will have thought about Hungarians in a different way.
About Kati Marton
Kati Marton is an American author and journalist. Her career has included reporting for ABC News as a foreign correspondent and National Public Radio as well as print journalism and writing a number of books. She is the former chairwoman of the International Women's Health Coalition, and a director (former chairwoman) of the Committee to Protect Journalists and other bodies including the International Rescue Committee, Human Rights Watch and the New America Foundation. She has received several honors for her reporting, including the 2001 Rbekah Kohut Humanitarian Award by the National Council of Jewish Women, the 2002 Matrix Award for Women Who Change the World, the George Foster Peabody Award, and the Commander's Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Hungary. Marton is also a recipient of The International Center in New York's Award of Excellence. Marton was born in Hungary, the daughter of UPI reporter Ilona Marton and award-winning AP reporter Endre Marton. She studied at the Sorbonne, and the Institut d'Etudes Politiques in Paris. She has a master's degree in international relations from George Washington University.