ON DEADLINE: What's wrong with Michelle Obama?
What is wrong with Michelle Obama?
Associated Press Writer
What is wrong with Michelle Obama?
Not a thing.
Too often, the media depict black women like me as gyrating hoochie mamas, someone's baby mama or dirty crack addicts.
Michelle Obama strikes a pose not seen enough: an accomplished, confident, proud black woman. (And get a load of those arms!)
That seems to scare some people.
OK, she slipped by suggesting she'd never really been proud of her country until her husband's candidacy took off. But the reaction went way over the top. Republicans tried to smack her down. Her husband's campaign aides wanted to perform the equivalent of a personality transplant.
It is said that people are most afraid of what they are least familiar with. And most people don't really know Michelle Obama. Like most politicians - and politicians' spouses - we know only what we read about her or see on TV.
But to be frightened by her, by the idea of her as first lady? That's just downright silly.
She was a darling of the media and campaign crowds when her husband, who calls her "my rock," started running for president. Barack Obama's advisers viewed her as his "secret weapon." In Iowa, aides started calling her "The Closer" because of her ability to win people over. After one speech in Muscatine, half of the mostly undecided crowd signed supporter cards on the way out.
But stumbles were inevitable.
In February, critics pounced when she said, "For the first time in my adult life, I am really proud of my country." They suggested she was an angry, unpatriotic woman, ungrateful to the country that helped her out of the poverty of the South Side of Chicago.
She later said she had been trying to say how proud she was that so many people were engaging in the political process as a result of her husband's candidacy, and that she had always been proud of her country.
But what if, deep down inside somewhere, Michelle Obama really is angry.
What's wrong with a little anger?
Black women have a lot of reasons to feel that way, and she, especially, for some of the things that have been said about her and her husband.
Maybe this Princeton and Harvard-educated lawyer is angry about Fox News Channel calling her in an on-screen graphic, "Obama's baby mama."
She could be spitting mad about the rumor that there was a video of her railing against "whitey" from the pulpit of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. No video has surfaced; the campaign says that's because she never spoke there.
At one point, Obama told her critics to "lay off my wife."
But his campaign has hired Michelle Obama a new chief of staff whose responsibilities include helping to reintroduce this wife and mother of two in ways that advisers think will be less threatening to the masses.
Who's to say she isn't rightfully outraged about that, too?
"People aren't used to strong women," Michelle Obama said when her image came up as she played guest co-host on "The View," the ABC daytime talk show. That appearance was part of the image makeover, too.
America likes a certain type of first lady - the adoring, smiling, know-your-place-and-stay-in-it kind who stands beside her man, doesn't upstage him and won't dare show bare arms in public. Career political wives, not career women.
Race aside, what's happening with Michelle Obama may not be all that different from the way Hillary Rodham Clinton was treated when her husband ran for president in 1992. At the time a Yale-educated partner in a top Arkansas law firm, she was not a career political wife and became an instant target.
When one of Bill Clinton's campaign rivals accused the Arkansas governor of funneling money to his wife's firm, she pushed back, saying: "I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas." That crack didn't sit well with millions of mothers and political wives across the country who did just that. Hillary Clinton apologized, then was made to show a softer side.
Is that what Obama's campaign has in store for Michelle, too?
Don't get me wrong; I like soft. Who doesn't? It helps make us women, but it's just one facet of who we are. And Michelle Obama has shown plenty of "soft" already; go watch the family's much-talked about interview with "Access Hollywood," or read her recent interview with Ebony magazine.
But let's cut through the spin and pose this question: In the grand scheme of things, what does Michelle Obama REALLY have to be angry about?
From where I sit, not much.
Which is why attempts to paint her as an angry, fire-breathing sister are so laughable.
By all accounts, she has a great husband - who has made history and could make more if he is elected on Nov. 4 - two charming daughters, a power career as a hospital administrator, a million-dollar home in Chicago's Hyde Park and ... those biceps to die for.
She embodies the hopes and dreams of millions of black women, like me, who quietly have longed for the day when we'd see one of our own where Michelle Obama is now - this close (fingers pinched!) to measuring the White House for draperies and picking out a new china pattern.
She's also a role model for little girls everywhere (and some big ones, too), especially those of color, who have been beaten down by poverty, broken homes, failing schools, low self-esteem and every other obstacle life can put in their way.
"There's not a parent on planet Earth who wouldn't want a daughter like this," said Edythe Friley, 61, a retired teacher from Detroit who participated in a recent Associated Press-Yahoo News survey about attitudes toward the potential first ladies.
Think of those girls and how it could help them to see someone like Michelle Obama - strong, self-assured, devoted to family, triumphant over some of those same issues in her own life and possibly headed to the White House - and think to themselves, "Yes, I can."
Darlene Superville, who is black, has been an editor on The Associated Press' national politics desk for the presidential campaigns of 2000, 2004 and 2008.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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