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Obama: "Lay off my wife" all over again

July 17, 2008 |  3:33 pm

Barack Obama tells Glamour that when it comes to wife Michelle, he doesn't have a thick skin Glamour got to sit down with Barack Obama yesterday, and the conversation inevitably veered toward Michelle. Not her fabulous style or her apparently expensive tastes, but — as usual — Michelle's political presence. And, in a comment reminiscent of Obama's admonishing the GOP to "lay off my wife" — a quote that Times columnist Jonah Goldberg gleefully seized upon — the candidate told the fashion mag, "I don't have a thick skin when it comes to criticism of my wife":

What happened was that the conservative press—Fox News and the National Review and columnists of every ilk—went fairly deliberately at her in a pretty systematic way.... spouses are civilians. They didn't sign up for this. They're supporting their spouse. So it took a toll....

Everybody who knows Michelle knows how extraordinary she is. She's ironically the most quintessentially American woman I know.... And I think that it is an example of the erosion of civility in our political culture that she's been subjected to these attacks, and my attitude is that the people who have attacked her in the ways that they have...if they've got a difference with me on policy, they should debate me. Not her.

"They should debate me, not her"? Now, I like and respect Obama. I'm also a huge fan of Michelle, and it's clear to me that certain pundits have sunk their teeth into her and just won't let go.

But the "lay off my wife" line of thought is a load of bunk. Hillary Clinton didn't shy away from politics while she lived in the White House. Eleanor Roosevelt, one of America's (and the world)'s most beloved first ladies, had a political life that far outlasted her husband's untimely death. Edith Wilson took on "stewardship" of daily presidential duties while her fascist dictator husband lay incapacitated. Abigail Adams, second only to Martha Washington, had some pretty definite opinions about women's suffrage. What's more, she was an active participant in the politics of her day:

After touring a New Jersey Army encampment, she reviewed the troops stationed there as "proxy" for the President. Often mentioned in the press, her opinions were even quoted at a New England town hall meeting. A highly partisan Federalist, Mrs. Adams helped forward the interests of the Administration by writing editorial letters to family and acquaintances, encouraging the publication of the information and viewpoint presented in them. She was sarcastically attacked in the opposition press... One anti-Federalist derided her as "Mrs. President" for her partisanship.

Loudmouthed first ladies are a fine American tradition. Obama should embrace that — and relax a little. The Times' James Rainey put it this way, regarding the New Yorker cartoon controversy:

Instead of his terse no comment, he should have played one of his strongest cards — his cool — responding something like: "Hey, I thought Michelle looked pretty good in camouflage."

Michelle Obama Watch, however, defends Barack Obama's position, asking, "Who could blame him?"

No one would want to see their spouse being publicly humiliated and distorted for no reason at all. Michelle is not running for office. She should not be treated as such. Anyone with half a brain would realize that the right feels the need to tear her down because doing so tears Barack Obama down by proxy — after all, why would a man with supposedly judgement sound enough to be Commander-in-Chief marry a reverse-racist, unpatriotic, “uppity” woman? 

National Review spends most of its time picking on Michelle in its response, but offers this point:

It is always nice to see a husband defend his wife or daughters — when they are truly "civilians" in the political wars. When, as in this case, the wife has the professional skills and the power to act for herself, that defense seems a bit condescending — and like wanting it both ways. As we learned from Team Clinton, a wife with with real power does better defending herself. 

Michelle Malkin, as usual, provides her own translation: "BO: Damn you conservatives for taking my wife seriously!"

And now (cue drumroll):

Tell us why below.

-- Amina Khan

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