Monday, January 9, 2012

The First Lady’s Lack of Firsts

Because of a new book, called The Obamas, a volume mainly about Michelle, the First Lady, there will be a lot of attention paid to her role in the White House and I’ve decided to write publicly what I have been saying privately for the last year or so, before all is lost in the deluge of print to come. The New York Times ran an excerpt from the book on Saturday – its author is one of its reporters, based in Washington (this is what is called being well placed) and reviews are just starting to appear.

One reason I haven’t written about this before is that it is a sensitive subject, and I was waiting for some woman to write about it. Coincidently, or not, the new book is by a woman, Jodi Kantor. Why be a critic, or critical of, the First Lady? I have enough problems. Well, in any case, what I was being critical of is the Obama administration, through the public persona it has created for Michelle Obama.

It is as if the ascendancy of a black American as president was enough of a break-through, that anything else would be superfluous. And the last Democrat in the White House, Bill Clinton, had the experience of putting his wife front and center (better to keep her busy, doubtless) and that didn’t work out too well (see Hillary care). But the times had change; boy, have they.

But, in the White House, it’s been the 1950s for the First Lady. Her first big splash was her garden; it began in March of 2009. For months they (the press and the image makers in the White House) turned Michelle into a field hand. If I saw one picture with her posing with a yam in her hand, I saw a thousand. Of course, she was a more fashionable gardener than Martha Stewart, when it came to what she wore. But her first public image was field hand, the second image was clothes horse, and her third large public project was to scold fat people.

Now all of this has a purpose and isn’t necessarily venal, but it is so retrograde I was waiting for some feminist to point it out. But I didn’t see one do so. Not that that means no one did. But Michele Obama, one must remember, was a corporate lawyer, one that was asked to show the new guy, Barack Obama, the ropes when he joined the firm she worked for; when Obama finally won election to the Illinois State Senate she began to get even more gainful employment in the upper corporate management world.

But for the US Senate and the Presidency she’s been turned back into housewife, become a most traditional First Lady. Fine. But what it shows and highlights is all the other turn-abouts for the Obama administration – its (and his) tendency toward living high on the hog, palling around with the upper ups. Barack Obama successfully hid a number of things before he was elected president; had I known he was so fond of golf I would have been even more skeptical at the time than I was.

As I have written elsewhere, Barack marrying Michele was, for Obama, a political decision in the same way Bill Clinton marrying Hillary was. Clinton knew he couldn’t marry one of the bimbos he frequented if he wanted to be taken seriously as a politician. He had to marry someone serious like Hillary. Barack Obama faced the same sort of political choice.

Miraculous as Obama’s election was for a boy from a half-Kansas and half-Kenya background, the first president-to-be whose father hadn’t been born in the “new world,” he would never have been elected Senator, much less President, if he had married a white wife. But nothing said that after he was elected President he had to make his wife into a field hand, clothes horse, or scold of fat people. But, Obama, the great conciliator, evidently didn’t want to make any more waves than necessary, and certainly neither did all those “progressive” Chicago pols he brought with him into the White House, some of whom are gone, some of whom are still there. Luckily for him, the Republicans he opposes are so puerile he doesn’t have to be exactly pure. But, please, no more yams.

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