Ever since Martha Washington became famous for serving up soft foods to her dentally-challenged husband, First Ladies of the United States have sought to bolster their presidential helpmates by virtue of their artistry in the kitchen-- often with limited success: "Lemonade" Lucy Hayes' refusal to serve alcohol made her unpopular with non-sober male voters; Edith Wilson's hoecakes are rumored to have sunk The Lusitania; and Dolley Madison's successful line of cream-filled pastries supplied her husband's detractors with 200 years worth of political zingers.
Thanks to these women, the position of White House chef became one of ever-increasing power and importance. First ladies were now free to support their husbands in other ways. For example, John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan might never have been president if their wives were kept in the kitchen rather than by their sides.
A surge of interest in the baking habits of First Ladies-- both incumbent and aspiring-- occurred in 1992 when Hillary Clinton mentioned that she chose to pursue her own career after her husband was elected Governor of Arkansas rather than "stay home and bake cookies." Every election year since, Family Circle magazine has presented a First Lady cookie bake-off-- a depressingly old-fashioned, sexist, yet remarkably accurate bellwether of the real presidential contest.*
What is interesting about this contest is not so much about how good these cookies are (or aren't), but rather, what each recipe says about the woman who submitted it. And, by extension, her husband's political philosophies. Do these treats adhere to their respective party platforms? The only way to find out is to bake them.