I came across a very interesting article, written by columnist Jonah Goldberg, on the Los Angeles Times website entitled “Michelle Obama is fair game.” It is appropriate because as we inch closer to Barack Obama clinching the nomination for the Democratic Party and possibly winning the presidential elections, Michelle Obama will undoubtedly come under more criticism for things she has said or will say on the campaign trail. I must admit, I was very bothered by Barack Obama’s statements to “lay of my wife” made earlier this month. I guess it does speak to some naivete or arrogance on his part for feeling that his wife should not come under criticism for issues she raises on the campaign trail. We should revisit the Clinton years when Hillary Clinton came under fire repeatedly for comments she made or for policy positions or just for personal issues. I can completely understand Obama making those statements if they attacked his wife on a personal level, but when she’s making statements about his candidacy, what she sees for America or hasn’t seen, or just policy issues, then girlfriend is fair game. However, when we have sites like the Daily Kos showing a picture of Michelle Obama about to be lynched, then that is definitely inappropriate and insulting to anyone in this country.
Jonah Goldberg: Michelle Obama is fair game
Candidates who send their wives out on the campaign trail shouldn’t lash out when their spouses face criticism.
May 27, 2008
‘Lay off my wife.”
So says Barack Obama about his controversial spouse, Michelle.
The Democratic candidate for the presidential nomination has a grating tendency to dismiss any inconvenient fact as a “distraction” and to label every stinging criticism as “divisive.” So even if he didn’t have a husband’s natural desire to defend his wife, he’d still probably denounce criticism of Michelle as beyond the pale.
Obama’s comments came in the wake of a Tennessee GOP ad this month calling new attention to Michelle Obama’s remark in February that she’d never in her adult life been “really proud” of America until the nation embraced her husband’s hope-and-change campaign.
“If they think that they’re going to try to make Michelle an issue in this campaign, they should be careful,” Obama said on ABC’s “Good Morning America” last week, “because that I find unacceptable, the notion that you start attacking my wife or my family.”
Again, the Illinois senator’s desire to protect his wife from criticism shows his heart’s in the right place. The question is, where is his head?
If he truly finds it “unacceptable” for people to criticize his wife, he might want to rethink his policy of sending her out as his chief campaign surrogate, particularly when she has proved to be such a rich source of copy for journalists and barbs for critics.
And just out of curiosity, what does it mean, exactly, when a candidate finds something “unacceptable”? In a democracy, finding criticism unacceptable is a surefire way to drive yourself bonkers. It’s like saying you find it unacceptable that bears use the woods for a bathroom. It’s going to happen whether you accept it or not.
But the larger issue is whether Mrs. Obama — or any political spouse — is a legitimate subject for scrutiny and, yes, criticism. Historically, this hasn’t been too much of a problem because most politicians’ wives played it safe. Sure, the crusading Eleanor Roosevelt had her bons mots, and Nancy Reagan had her moments in the spotlight, but most first ladies have stuck to ribbon cuttings, scone recipes and Girl Scout jamborees. Laura Bush has largely stayed out of the headlines because she has done and said little that is headline worthy.
That all changed with Hillary Rodham Clinton. In 1992, she and her husband (now her ex-officio campaign manager) insisted that she wasn’t the Tammy Wynette type. When her work as a lawyer came up during his campaign, she snapped, “I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas.”
Bill Clinton, who himself said that electing him would deliver “two for the price of one,” put her in charge of his top domestic priority, healthcare reform. And though she failed miserably at the job, she certainly wasn’t sitting around baking cookies.
After that debacle, Hillary Clinton retreated into a more traditional first lady role for a while. Or so we thought. Now we’re told, if her own campaign is to be believed, that she was really a dynamo behind the scenes. Like that old “Saturday Night Live” skit in which Ronald Reagan was an amiable dunce in front of the cameras but a Patton-like commander in chief behind closed doors, the revisionist history of Clinton is that she was involved in everything, up to and including dropping into the Balkans under sniper fire to conduct cowboy diplomacy. Or something like that.
It’s also worth recalling that during the 1992 campaign, Bill Clinton tried to make any criticism of his wife unacceptable as well. When rival candidate Jerry Brown, the former California governor, accused Bill Clinton of funneling money to Hillary’s Arkansas law practice, Bill snapped: “You ought to be ashamed of yourself for jumping on my wife. You’re not worth being on the same platform as my wife.”
If Brown had accused Clinton of funneling money to someone else, say Hillary’s colleague Webster Lee Hubbell, the vein-popping outrage wouldn’t have worked. There’s just something about wives that make husbands go all gallant. Trust me, I know.
But gallantry has to take a back seat when your wife is riding shotgun. Indeed, there might even be something sexist in all of this, somewhere. After all, no one thinks that criticizing Hillary’s husband is “unacceptable.”
Americans don’t know Barack Obama very well. Part of the election process is getting to know who the candidate is. All politicians are desperate to control that process, but the rest of us aren’t on their campaign staff and are under no obligation to follow orders.
Michelle Obama says some fascinating, substantive things. She appears to have a very gloomy opinion of America, for instance, a country apparently full of desperate and isolated people whose only hope lies in an Obama presidency.
I for one want to hear more from her, and she seems perfectly willing to oblige. But if I don’t like what she has to say, I reserve the right to say so, whether her husband finds it acceptable or not.