Monday, May 26, 2008

Michelle Obama: Puppetmaster?

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Michelle Obama is a brilliant woman with a striking and commanding appearance. So, why does she scare the hell out of me when I imagine her as our nation’s First Lady? My cartoon tries to say it all.My first vague feeling of discomfort occurred when Michelle Obama and her husband appeared on 60 minutes (Feb., 2007). She said, “I hate it. That’s why he doesn’t do it anymore…I’m the one who outed him on the smoking. That was one of my prerequisites for, you know, entering this race, is that, you know, he couldn’t be a smoking president.” Then, we viewers were deputized to contact her if we caught Barack smoking. Whereas I applaud anyone who is supporting a partner to conquer a tobacco addiction, her demeanor on national TV came off as unnervingly controlling.

Then, when I read the article in Glamour Magazine (Feb., 2007), Michelle Obama told us more than we really needed to know. She stated, “We have this ritual in the morning. They [their two girls] come in my bed, and if Dad isn’t there—because he’s too snore-y and stinky, they don’t want to ever get into bed with him.” She also complained that he doesn’t pick up his socks. In a public forum such revelations came off as infantilizing the man seeking to lead our country.
But maybe this was just about sharing family anecdotes and I was overreacting.

The kicker that jolted me back to my orginal perception of Michelle Obama, however, came upon reading the transcript of an interveiw with Monica Langley of the Wall Street Journal in February, 2008. Langley writes, “On a conference call to prepare for a recent debate, Barack Obama brainstormed with his top advisers on the fine points of his positions. Michelle Obama had dialed in to listen, but finally couldn’t stay silent any longer. ‘Barack,’ she interjected, ‘Feel — don’t think!’ Telling her husband his ‘over-thinking’ during past debates had tripped him up with rival Hillary Clinton, she said: ‘Don’t get caught in the weeds. Be visceral. Use your heart — and your head.’ The campaign veterans shut up. They knew that Mrs. Obama’s opinion and advice mattered more to their candidate than anything they could say.” Langley adds, “Mr. Obama, in a speech after a primary, called his wife ‘the love of my life and the rock of the Obama family.’ But in a candid moment last March, he told a crowd: ‘She’s too smart to run. It is true my wife is smarter, better looking. She’s a little meaner than I am.’”

I also had to take a hard look at how Mrs. Obama appears to have exploited her husband’s political ascendance to her own benefit. Her sudden salary increase at the University of Chicago Hospitals, the funds her husband earmarked for her employer as US Senator, and the appointment to the board of Tree House Foods, a WAL-MART ally, after her husband was elected to the US Senate appear to be no coincidence, especially as Michelle did not have any experience in the private sector before she assumed the sinecure at Tree House. When I see the two being interviewed together, she in the one who comes off as totally in charge. Obama seems like he just shrunk a few inches in her presence, and his persona feels diminished. The First Lady can be far more than a figurehead, and Michelle Obama is only within the last year really proud of our country. The question now becomes, what would she do in her role as First Lady, especially if her husband’s will is subordinated to her own?

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