Watching the US election gave me palpitations. Initially, stress about the predicted closeness of the race quickened my pulse. Then I grew breathless after leaping with joy at losses for the Tea Party candidates with Mad Hatter views on rape.  By the time Barack Obama tweeted ‘Four more years’ with a picture of he and Michelle having a hug, my chest felt as tight as a drum.

http://images.dailylife.com.au/2012/11/12/3789414/Obama_Wide3.jpg?rand=1352695522371

There on the face of the most powerful man in the world was joy, relief, happiness, tenderness and a divine love for his partner.  It turned out to be an old photo but I was entranced.  As were millions; the picture is the most retweeted photo of all time and the most liked on Facebook.  My heart was pounding when Obama finally took to the stage to claim victory.  But when he thanked his wife with the words

Michelle, I have never loved you more. I have never been prouder to watch the rest of America fall in love with you, too” my heart actually began to hurt.

A few hours later I went to hospital and the nurse wrote ‘Obama heart attack?’ in her notes.  It was nothing of the sort – a torn shoulder muscle causing referred pain.  Now, in embarrassed recovery, my feelings towards Mobama are less emotional and more cerebral.    

American women helped deliver Barack Obama his second term and one of the many reasons they did so is because of his spouse.  Michelle Obama’s approval rating of nearly 70 % is far higher than that of the President. She’s been a fabulous First Lady but her appeal is not just her intelligence, sense of humour, compassion and the most cut arms in the country. It’s also the fact that their relationship is real.  That kind of hug cannot be faked.  That chemistry cannot be contrived.  Nor can the look of devotion and pride on Obama’s face as he watched her wow the Democratic Convention.  I like Obama so much more because he has the love of a powerful, wonderful woman.  That love sends a subliminal message; this is a man who respects, appreciates and understands the concerns of women.

When Sasha and Malia took to the stage beside him, his charm was magnified threefold.  There’s a clip going around that shows Sasha tapping her Dad on the shoulder and him bending down to hear her say ‘wave to the people behind you’.  He doesn’t hesitate to do exactly that. I love that the US is led by a man who listens closely to his women and takes their advice. Halleluiah! No wonder the US President told the crowd he’s proud that his daughters are growing up to be strong, smart, beautiful women.  Buy them another dog Obama – you owe them big time.

Men in positions of power used to want a ‘homely wife’.  Yet, increasingly, it seems better to have a smart strong woman beside them.

I know many women who warmed to the rather nerdy Kevin Rudd because they deeply admired Therese Rein.  While she wasn’t enough to save him, her stellar career, sensible yet sensitive nature and advocacy work made me respect his values.  I also felt he understood modern women.  His daughter Jessica was also a powerful asset (as was her husband).   

My theory works outside of politics as well. I was at a function last week where Hugh Jackman was meant to be host.  Stuck on set filming ‘The Wolverine’, he introduced his wife Deborra-Lee Furness via video link, “Here’s Deb she’s sexier, smarter and cooler than I am”.   All the women in the room swooned. I’ve always admired Hugh for marrying a cool, older woman with her own shtick and cred, seeing him appreciate her so made me only like him more.  

It works the other way as well. Many women do judge men who go for a trophy wife rather than an equal. I find Geoffrey Edelsten and Donald Trump too ridiculous for words. I didn’t see a Woody Allen movie for years after he married his adopted daughter.

But does it work the other way? Do we judge women by their relationships?  Or do we tend to assume she made it on her own?  Julia Gillard’s Tim seems like a lovely bloke but I don’t need him on the scene.

Yet, parading the partner as a political asset is risky.  Margie Abbott recently blitzed the media and while she seemed like a smart, capable and strong woman, it seemed too orchestrated and uncomfortable to really work for the Opposition Leader.  While his daughters looked happier on his arm at Race Day, any artificial photo ops of family get-togethers can be too constrained to carry cache.  Kevin Rudd overplayed his hand with Therese and Jessica in the last leadership challenge – I thought I could hear the dog whistle ‘I have a family, Julia Gillard does not’.  While I may judge a powerful man by his partner, I don’t care if anyone is single or childless.  I can’t wait until we have a gay leader to see how the partner issue plays out.

It’s not just about the spouse.  Mobama shows that great men like great women.  What’s more, he doesn't just admit that he couldn't do it without Michelle he actually acknowledges that she helps him be a better man.  Obama tells the world that her love, support, and advice actually made him the man he is today. It’s heart-warming and mind motivating as it shows society is changing for the better.

We are all made better by great love from our parents, friends or partners. The important thing is to acknowledge it.