Michelle Obama, in context

The Republicans will make an issue of Michelle Obama in this election year. Actually, the Republicans try this trick during every election, as Ragged Thots points out:

This is the ’08 version of a really weird conservative urban legend that pops up every four years. The names change, but the basics remain the same: 1) It always involves the wife of the Democratic presidential candidate; 2) It always portrays the wife — not the candidate — committing some anti-American, unpatriotic act.

I was first exposed to this during the 1988 campaign when the line was, “There’s a picture out there of Kitty Dukakis burning the American flag … just wait til that comes out …” (that one got out of hand when a GOP senator actually believed it and called a press conference to say he would soon produce the evidence — which never materialized). Four years later, “There’s a picture out there of Hillary Clinton burning the American flag … just wait ’til that comes out ….” In 1996, the Hillary thing repeated itself. In ’04, there was a similar one about Teresa Heinz Kerry.

Differences this year: Because of the racial angle and Jeremiah Wright, Michelle Obama — and Louis Farrakhan, for good measure — are blaming “whitey.” Because of YouTube, it’s a clip, not a photo.

This B.S. arises every election cycle, so let’s lay the “whitey” rumour to rest.

But what about that other knock, the one where Michelle Obama was caught red-handed on youtube? She said, “for the first time in my adult lifetime, I am proud of my country.”

OK, not a very prudent choice of words. But let’s consider the remark in context:

What we’ve learned over this year is that hope is making a comeback. It is making a comeback. And let me tell you something — for the first time in my adult lifetime, I am proud of my country. And not just because Barack has done well, but because I think people are hungry for change.

And I have been desperate to see our country moving in that direction and just not feeling so alone in my frustration and disappointment. I’ve seen people who are hungry to be unified around some basic common issues, and it’s made me proud.

And I feel privileged to be a part of even witnessing this. Travelling around states all over this country, and being reminded that there is more that unites us than divides us, that the struggles of a farmer in Iowa are no different than what’s happening on the south side of Chicago. That people are feeling the same pain and wanting the same things for their families.

One of my commenters (who describes her as “ghastly”) said, “If she goes around saying she wasn’t proud of America until it started to recognise the sheer wonderfulness of Barack (and presumably, by extension, Michelle) Obama, then she can’t really complain about being attacked for it.”

But is that a fair representation of Michelle Obama’s remarks, in context? No; obviously it isn’t.

Michelle Obama was expressing frustration over the hyper-partisanship of American politics:  the Rovian tactics that are used to drive a wedge between one American and another, and compel Republicans and Democrats to opposite poles of the political spectrum.

To be fair to Karl Rove — not that he deserves it — this hyper-partisanship did not begin in 2000. It was evident throughout the Clinton years, as anyone who lived through the Lewinski scandal and the ensuing attempt at impeachment will remember.

In other words, this hyper-partisanship that sets Republicans and Democrats at each others’ throats has been a fact of life for all the years that Michelle Obama has been an adult. And now she sees people seizing on her husband’s campaign as an opportunity to get beyond partisanship and fight a common enemy:  for example, for poor whites and poor blacks to work side-by-side for their rightful share of America’s prosperity.

(Meanwhile, John McCain promises to save millionaires $700,000 in taxes.)

It’s a pity, given that Obama’s remarks are readily available on youtube, that so few people have actually watched the video and considered what Michelle Obama was saying. Next time someone quotes her, out of context, you can set the record straight.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Random
    Jun 16, 2008 @ 04:43:48


    As you are aware, I have never made an issue of Michelle Obama in the past (despite the rich vein of material she provides) and only engaged with the topic the other day because you raised it first. I’ve taken this line precisely because I agree with you about it being a low blow to do this sort of thing to a candidater’s family. However, as you’ve quoted me as speaking for the right wing smear machine, I think I should respond.

    Firstly, despite your assertions that this is a Republican tactic, it isn’t – the Democrats are just as bad, in fact arguably they invented this sort of thing. For example, I vividly remember how during the 1980’s they gleefully used Nancy Reagan’s various eccentricities to undermine her husband, and I’m willing to stand corrected, but I believe this is the first time in living memory a candidate’s or president’s wife was used to attack him.

    As for the this time round, the Democrats jumped first again – they’ve already had some fun attacking Cindy McCain over her tax returns, and of course the wider left has been making hay with her drug problems for years (note the date on that one – it’s from the last time McCain ran for president!). So less about “Republican” tricks if you please.

    As for the quote you cited, I honestly don’t see how that rebuts my summary of it. it makes it perfectly clear that ” for the first time in my adult lifetime, I am proud of my country” are her own words, not a paraphrase and “not just because Barack has done well, but because I think people are hungry for change” makes it perfectly clear that even if the fact that America has started to recognise the wonderfulness of the Obamas isn’t the whole reason for this shift it’s clearly a key part of it.

    As for “ghastly” – yup, stand by that. If you want me to justify with chapter and verse I will do, please ask. But as I said before, I’ve no desire to engage in personal attacks and only addressed the issue this time round because you talked about it first.


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