Mincing Up Michelle
Hillary and Bill are busy updating their enemies lists. And Obama is racking his brain trying to figure out where to stash his erstwhile rival.
If a President Obama put her on the Supreme Court, of course, we would have the infinite fun of hearing Bill rant about how Scalia, Alito, Thomas and Roberts were dissing Hillary.
It’s good news for Obama that Hillary’s out of the race. But it’s also bad news. Now Republicans can turn their full attention to demonizing Michelle Obama. Mrs. Obama is the new, unwilling contestant in Round Two of the sulfurous national game of “Kill the witch.”
There are some who think it will be harder for America to accept a black first lady — the national hostess who serenely presides over the White House Christmas festivities and the Easter egg roll — than a black president.
There are creepy Web sites, like TheObamaFile.com, dedicated to painting Michelle as a female version of Jeremiah Wright, an angry black woman, the disgruntled, lecturing “Mrs. Grievance” depicted on the cover of National Review.
On that site and others around the Internet, the seamy rumors still slither that there’s a tape of Michelle denouncing “whitey,” a rumor that Barack Obama disdained last week as “scurrilous.”
E.D. Hill, the Fox anchor who said that the celebrated fist pump between Michelle and her husband the night he snagged the nomination could be called a “terrorist fist jab,” apologized Tuesday.
In their narrative of how Hillary lost in The Times on Sunday, Jim Rutenberg and Peter Baker said that Mark Penn argued that Hillary should subtly stress Obama’s “lack of American roots.”
That’s a good preview of how Republicans will attack Michelle, suggesting that she does not share American values, mining a subtext of race.
She’s a devoted daughter, wife and mother who has lived the American dream, from the humble South Side of Chicago to Harvard Law School. Hey, isn’t it totally unAmerican to complain that being a black woman in the ’80s at a class-conscious, white-bread college, Princeton, was somewhat uncomfortable?
Just as Bill and Hillary did the “Pssst! He’s black!” thing on Barry, now the Republicans will use the same tactic on the strong and opinionated Michelle.
Unlike her husband, who wrote in his memoir that he had learned at a young age to smile and charm and disarm whites of the notion that he might be a bristly black militant, Michelle has not always hidden her jangly opinions so well. She has spent more time dwelling on the ways in which society can pull down the less privileged and refers a lot to a callous but unnamed “They.”
“Michelle,” as one political observer puts it, “is a target-rich environment.”
Team Obama is hoping for the best. When she’s on her game, after all, Michelle is a knockout. And as one Obama booster enthuses: “Michelle’s story is a lot more mainstream American than Cindy McCain inheriting a brewery.”
But the campaign is preparing for the worst, planning to shore up Michelle with her own slick and quick war room staffed by top operatives from previous campaigns.
David Axelrod thinks “there’s a real recoil potential” if the Republicans go after Michelle. “I don’t think she’s projecting herself into the fray in a way that would justify that,” he said, adding that her charming and polite daughters, Malia and Sasha, are walking testimony to Michelle’s “loving parenting.”
Mike Murphy, the G.O.P. strategist who worked for John McCain in 2000, but not yet this year, said Michelle is heading into her “big moment in the sun.”
“She’ll have the opportunity to do pretty well and the opportunity to really screw up.” he said. “What I glimpse of her from far away makes me think there could be trouble, but anytime you have that size microphone, she will have some control over how she handles the pressure.”
She’s going to take her big microphone on “The View” as a co-host next week, when she will no doubt try to put her remark about her belated pride in her country in context. And she clearly scored a pre-emptive hit both with her chic style — Vogue’s André Leon Talley declared in The Times the dawn of “a black Camelot” — and with her playful fist pump that now has older white guys, like North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley, awkwardly trying to do it with Obama.
The dap or pound, as it’s also called, was a natural and beguiling moment that showed the country that, even though she started out as her husband’s boss and has a résumé that matches his, she likes him and is rooting for him, and is not engaged in a dreaded Clintonesque competition with him. (On the night of the Pennsylvania primary, Bill was eagerly checking to see who had swayed more voters — him or Hillary.)
“She isn’t sitting with a fixed, adoring gaze,” Axelrod said. “But she obviously loves him deeply and believes in him, and more than that, she believes in this. And that motivates him.”