Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Trashing Michelle

Mark Steyn performs in interesting deconstruction of Michelle Obama and what she means for her husband's campaign. Very funny, at least:
And when she stops looking back across the final grim despairing decades of the 20th century (“Life for regular folks has gotten worse over the course of my lifetime”) and contemplates the sunlit uplands of the new utopia, it doesn’t, tonally, get any cheerier. Pretend for a moment that the name of the candidate had been excised from the following remarks. Would it seem part of the natural discourse of a constitutional republic of citizen legislators? Or does it sound more appropriate to the leadership cult of Basketkhazia or some other one-man stan?

“[INSERT NAME OF MESSIANIC LEADER HERE] will require you to work. He is going to demand that you shed your cynicism. That you put down your divisions. That you come out of your isolation, that you move out of your comfort zones. That you push yourselves to be better. And that you engage. Barack will never allow you to go back to your lives as usual, uninvolved, uninformed.”

Barack, eh? Barack Jong-Il? Unlikely. Not too many “comfort zones” in Pyongyang. Barack Turkmenbashi, the late dictator of Turkmenistan? Possibly. But he would have exhorted his people to push themselves to grow more melons (a particular source of national pride). No, the above words were his wife’s vision of life under the Administration of Barack Obama, the transformative Presidential candidate offering change you can believe in – or else. I hate to sound like I’m walled up in the Shed of Cynicism, but the constitutional right to be “uninvolved” and “uninformed” is one of the most precious, at least if the alternative is being “required” to work at coming out of your isolation and engaging with fellow members of the uninvolved, uninformed masses as we push ourselves to move out of our comfort zone.

Fortunately, none of that seems to mean anything in real English, though it has the makings of a totalitarian therapeutic rewrite of “Put On A Happy Face”:

Gray skies are gonna push off
Move Out Your Comfort Zone
Barack will work your tush off
Move Out Your Comfort Zone
Give up your gloomy lives so uninvolved
It’s not allowed
Barack requires every one involved
So join the crowd…

I’m willing to cut presidential spouses a lot of slack. When Senator Obama said Jeremiah Wright was like a goofy uncle, it was pointed out that your relatives are a given but you get to choose your pastor. It’s true that you also get to choose your wife, but, unless you’re particularly far-sighted, you don’t always choose them with a presidential run in mind. I found Teresa Heinz’s tone-deafness to the rhythms of democratic politics one of the more charmingly genuine features of John Kerry’s phony-baloney populist campaign. Who wouldn’t love a woman who, shanghaied into lunching at Wendy’s with Mr and Mrs John Edwards, demands to know what “chili” is and has to have it explained to her by the clerk that it’s a meat-based food dish widely consumed around the United States. Oddly enough, despite being a couple of decades younger and several gazillion dollars poorer, Mrs Obama has a tin ear even Mrs Kerry must marvel at. Addressing a group of struggling women in economically torpid central Ohio, Michelle Obama eschewed the usual I-feel-your-pain shtick and invited her audience to fee hers, lurching into a long riff on the expense of extracurricular activities for her daughters, piano and ballet and summer camp, and somehow she and Barack are expected to figure out how to pay for it on a combined salary of 500 grand a year, not including his book royalties and her corporate directorship. (Nor the home they bought for $1.6 million – which is the only house they’ve ever owned.) Mrs Obama’s plaint was worryingly reminiscent of the time the Prince of Wales, attempting to bond with some of the British Army’s black recruits, said that he too knew what it was to suffer prejudice: At his boarding school some of the boys had been prejudiced against him because he was a prince. (“The people in my dormitory are foul,” he wrote to the Queen in 1964. “They throw slippers all night long or hit me with pillows.”) Two and a third centuries after throwing off the monarchy, many Americans remain polite and deferential to the political class. So an audience of women living in a depressed county where median household income is about a tenth of Mrs Obama’s salary alone nodded politely and tutted sympathetically as the Senator’s wife outlined the difficulties of making ends meet on a lousy half-million per.
I find Michelle a little scary. I can never tell whether she's going to be reasonable, go off on some vitriolic harrangue, or simply find an available member of the audience and punch him right in the nose. Some people would call this sort of deameanor "feisty." Probably true, but I assert that feistiness is not all it's cracked up to be as a policy advisor or a diplomatic representative, both of which certainly are part of the job description for a First Lady.

Steyn also makes this point:
There’s something pitiful about a political culture that has no use for Mitt Romney, a hugely successful businessman, but venerates a woman who gets the best part of 400 grand for running a “neighborhood outreach” and “staff diversity” program. They seem curious career choices for the closest confidante of a man who claims to be running as a “post-racial” candidate. Which Barack Obama certainly could have been. He’s no tired old race-baiter making a lucrative career out of grievance-mongering, like Jesse Jackson, President-for-Life of the Republic of Himself. In many ways, he’s similar to Colin Powell, a bipartisan figure born to British subjects (in Powell’s case, from the Caribbean; in Obama’s, from colonial Kenya) and thus untinged by the bitterness of the African-American experience. And yet the two most important figures in Obama’s adult life exemplify all the tired obsessions he was supposed to transcend.
You can take the identity politics out of the man, but I'm not sure you can take the man out of the identity politics. There are lots of factions that view an identity-neutral African American as a serious threat to their livelihood. I suspect that Obama may be living with one of them.

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