In an attempt to mute the barrage of criticism stemming from Mommiegate, the White House came out with a statement: the wife of a president or presidential candidate should be off limits for criticism. Really?

Sorry, but I don’t agree. Nor does Victor Davis Hanson.  In a must-read piece on National Review Online, Hanson acknowledges that presidential children should be protected from the fray. But wives? Well, it depends on the wife:

We can all agree that Bess Truman, Mamie Eisenhower, Jackie Kennedy, Lady Bird Johnson, Pat Nixon, Betty Ford, Rosalynn Carter, and Laura Bush for the most part avoided political controversy. They were political only to the degree that every wife in some ways shares in her husband’s career and wishes to defend him when he is attacked. They deserve a degree of latitude, both to defend their husbands and to do so without commensurate rebuttal.

But how about a far more ideological and engaged profile like those of Eleanor Roosevelt, Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush, Hillary Clinton, and Michelle Obama? In their cases, they saw the role of the first lady as something that transcended support for their husbands, or advocacy for nonpolitical causes such as highway beautification, the arts, literacy, or the campaign against substance abuse.

Eleanor Roosevelt waded into all sorts of class, gender, and race issues of her time. She was both blamed and praised for her activism in the cause of equality for women and minorities, and she was often consulted by party bosses about left-wing political appointments and endorsements. …

Those first ladies who like politics and play an active role should expect to be both praised and hammered by the political classes and the media; those who do not, should not be. Attacking the politics or speeches of a Bess Truman, Pat Nixon, or Laura Bush is about as unfair as giving a pass to the views of an Eleanor Roosevelt, Barbara Bush, or Hillary Clinton.

It is up to Ann Romney whether she enters the arena. It appears so far that she will and that she will be able to take the heat. You gotta love her for saying that Hilary Rosen’s gaffe was “an early birthday present.”

Mitt Romney should not rely on his wife to close the gender gap—he is going to have to say flat out that Republicans don’t have any agenda whatsoever with regard to contraception, and he’s going to have to show that the WOW was manufactured by Democrats. But his wife surely isn’t hurting, is she?