(The defamatory story was published in August, at a time when few expected the Trumps to take the White House, and the former model had once had a sideline selling Melania jewelry.) But her lawsuit revealed an unspoken truth: Modern first ladies know that inherent to the role is the power to sell. Roosevelt showed up in print and television commercials endorsing bread products, margarine and even the burgeoning airline industry. The latter featured a portrait of Roosevelt seated on a plane, serenely knitting above this quote: I never cease to marvel at the airplane. Roosevelt was surprised at her ability to push products, historians recalled, but in the years since the selling power of first ladies has been well documented. Their position is unsalaried and the work is unofficial, but presidents wives have used their platforms to promote worthy causes, promote their husbands and, sometimes, promote themselves. Lady Bird Johnson, now seen as a pioneering environmentalist, led a nationwide campaign to discourage roadside littering. Michelle Obama produced public service announcements encouraging children to eat their vegetables, at the same time her husband attempted to overhaul the nations health care system. Nancy Reagan launched her just say no campaign to steer kids away from substance abuse that dovetailed with her husbands war on drugs. Of course, these were all pursuits with the public interest in mind, and none stood to gain personally from this kind of promotional work. And all first ladies have sought to sell the nation on the likability of their husbands as Melania did in interviews during Donald Trumps campaign for president when she spoke of the Donald only I know. (Even when theyre not Dog Collar trying, first ladies can be startlingly effective at selling commercial goods.
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