Blogs > HNN > Where in the world is Michelle Obama?

Oct 26, 2008 1:54 pm

Where in the world is Michelle Obama?

Where is Michelle Obama? Since the Democratic nominee’s wife delivered her warm, charming, effective address at the Democratic National Convention, she has remained remarkably low profile. The Obama campaign has used her sparingly and – to the Democrats’ good fortune – she has triggered no controversy. This quiet is a remarkable contrast to the tumult that surrounded her during Barack Obama’s primary campaign. It reflects some of the particular dynamics surrounding the Obama partnership in private and in public. But Michelle Obama’s demeanor also reflects the broader strategy in the Democratic campaign this fall. If Barack Obama wins on November 4, it will feel more like a victory by default than a sweeping mandate for change.

When Barack Obama first emerged as a serious presidential contender, his wife Michelle had an important, if reluctant, role in the narrative. For a politician who was triggering near messianic fervor, she was the reality check, proof that he put his socks on one foot at a time, like the rest of us mortals. It was a role she seemed to relish – and took a little too far. Her comments about her “stinky, snorey” husband in the marital bed triggered collective shouts of “TMI” – too much information. They were far too reminiscent of both Clintons at their worst, combining Hillary Clinton’s occasional flashes of anger about her husband’s tomcatting with Bill Clinton’s willingness to answer the undignified question posed to him as president, “Do you wear boxers or briefs?” Still, Mrs. Obama did what candidate spouses have done for decades. She helped humanize her husband. Michelle Obama filled out the profile of Barack Obama as a regular guy with two adorable children and a smart, capable, if occasionally neglected wife.

As the primary campaign heated up and became a two-person struggle pitting Barack Obama against Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama’s role expanded. Bill Clinton’s controversial involvement in his wife’s race helped shine the spotlight on Barack Obama’s spouse. Michelle Obama’s now infamous comment that her husband’s rise made her proud to be an American for the first time in her life hurt the Obama effort. Although Mrs. Obama’s gaffe was less destructive than Mr. Clinton’s egocentric, race-baiting antics, the comment played into the Clinton narrative that the Obamas were unpatriotic, supercilious, elitists, privileged Ivy League types bashing America while enjoying her bounty. Well aware of how much Hillary Clinton’s frankness detracted from Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign in 1992, the Obama campaign sought to reposition and then silence Mrs. Obama.

The effort has largely succeeded. In her convention tour de force, Michelle Obama used her life story to normalize her husband’s biography. Her stories of local Chicago girl made good helped tailor Barack Obama’s less conventional biography to fit the more classic contours of the American dream. Her delivery was as good as her content, and she came across as warm, supportive, accomplished but not threatening – not an easy task given the many racist and sexist stereotypes she must overcome.

Since then, it has been relatively quiet on the Obama home front. Barack Obama did one round of interviews with his daughters, which he immediately regretted. Michelle Obama has dutifully accompanied her husband when necessary, but even Cindy McCain has generated more national attention. More broadly, the Sarah Palin phenomenon has been the distaff story of this campaign. It seems that Americans – or journalists – have a limited quota of attention they will pay to women during a campaign, and both potential First Ladies seem to have had less scrutiny than usual, partially because of all the Palin controversies.

Michelle Obama’s passivity is also a reflection of the relatively subdued campaign Barack Obama has run -- to his great benefit. In many ways, since the convention, he has shifted gears. The flamboyant, exciting, “yes we can” candidate of last spring has become the calm, unruffled, cool customer of today. Since the financial meltdown, Obama has – publicly – taken the lead by default. He has let John McCain stumble more than anything else. At the same, Obama has run a brilliant ground game, raising money prodigiously, and organizing his ground troops. The upside is that it just may win him the presidency, as people’s perceptions of his maturity and readiness to be chief executive have grown. The downside is that he is smoothly gliding his way toward the White House rather than taking it by storm. If he wins, he will need to work harder during the transition to shape – or even retroactively create – a mandate.

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Lorraine Paul - 10/28/2008

In fact, Marx was of the middle-class himself. His wife, Jenny, was of the aristocracy.

Many from the middle-class have concerned themselves with social justice issues. Further, before the rise of the middle-classes, some of the aristocracy down the centuries have agitated for better social conditions. Examples of this are the magna carta and the overthrow of Charles I in England.

Arnold Shcherban - 10/28/2008

Somehow "populist" has become a dirty characterization of a politician in this country (and this country alone).
I wonder, whether the reason for such a perception is that American democracy (and its major representative parties) nowadays is nothing more than a fig leaf for corporate plutocracy and, therefore, all measures are taken to deter real democratic process in this country.
The same premises applied to the foreign policy formulation lead to the imperialistic actions against other countries around the world.
That's why, e.g. the so-called free American media and "democratic" politicians, raise hell about such populists as Hugo Chavez, and other left leaders recently democratically elected by a overwhelming majority vote in other Latin American countries
(while this country's "democrats" were
too busy installing a couple more of anti-democratic regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq, to prevent the "populists" coming to power in their "back yard", as they like to call Central and Latin America.
Populist is a politician who enjoys the support of majority, in general, and of common folks, in particular. Thus, true democracies are supposed to elect only populists, aren't they?
And why a legitimate millionaire cannot simultaneously be a populist, who delegated himself/herself to fight for social and economic interests of common folks?
Some rich and a few of super-rich people supported socialists and communists around the world.
Friedrich Engels - the K.Marx' partner in creation of the ideology and philosophy of socialism - just to name one, was born in a rich bourgeois family and did pursue family
business while creating first Commintern.

Lorraine Paul - 10/27/2008

But Mr Davis, they do 'turn out to see the candidate's wife', so obviously some people care!

Lorraine Paul - 10/27/2008

Mr Davis, as an observer of your political process I have great admiration for Michelle Obama. She is a support for her husband whilst at the same time being her own person.

During the 'town hall' debate, thanks to cable TV, it stood out like you-know-what that Cindy McCain was a mere appendage to her husband. Walking behind him with her hands behind her back (I'll leave it to others to interpret that piece of body language), never initiating contact with those present.

I feel very, very sorry for this woman. It is obvious she is a very reluctant participant in her husband's campaign.

Lorraine Paul - 10/27/2008

There is no money for health care because it has all been 'given' to Haliburton and the other 'privatised' recipients of tax-payers' money which has been spent on useless wars. Wars which kill your best and brightest! The very people you will need in the coming crises created by your past president's penchant for world domination!

'They created a desert and called it peace!'.

Michael Davis - 10/27/2008

Why is is more of a story?
Why anyone would turn out to see the candidate's wife alone is beyond me. The wives aren't running for office.

Who cares?

Michael Davis - 10/27/2008

Ha ha. Being shot will be the least of Obama's worries. Ridiculous statement.
Also, why would a president wait until his second term when he is a lame duck to propose a health scheme?
The time to do that is the first thing after an election, first term.

For better or worse, there is no money to do any type of health care reform. So I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for any reform next year.

Michael Davis - 10/27/2008

doesn't fit into the image that Obama wants to convey, which is exactly what Michelle is.

You know, sort of like millionaire trial attorney John Edwards posing as a populist...and people believing him!!

Politics is about perception alone. Hiding Michelle, like Hillary, is all part and parcel of this.

Michael Green - 10/27/2008

Is it possible that Michelle Obama's schedule is on the campaign website and that the media do not generally cover spouse's separate appearances, and that is why we don't see much of her? Has that possibility occurred to anyone?

I find it interesting, though not terribly important, that Cindy McCain prefers to avoid separate appearances. That is more of a story, I think.

Bill McWilliams - 10/26/2008

Obama knows that in a country that has 35,000 registered lobbyists, nearly all of whom working for corporate elites, it is unwise to think that very much change of any kind is possible.

Mrs. Clinton learned that in 1993 (healthcare reform).

Obama is unlikely to attempt any kind of major change until and unless he is reelected in 2012. Even then, he will be constrained by all kinds of forces and fears (JFK/Dallas).

Paul Noonan - 10/26/2008

Of course, the rally I attended in 1984 featured Joan Mondale (Walter Mondale' wife), not Eleanor Mondale, who is his daughter.

Paul Noonan - 10/26/2008

I assume she's out there hitting the smaller venues. In 1984 I attended a Mondale rally in a mid-sized city (about 100,000) that was addressed by Eleanor Mondale. This was in Septmeber or October (I recall her making a joke about Reagan's performance in the first debate) and obviously it would have been a waste to have the candidate himself come to address a small crowd of a few hundred that close to the election.

This has usually been the case; the VP candidate and the candidates' spouses take the smaller burgs while the candidate for President hits the big cities. It's McCain who is doing the unusual in traveling with both his wife and his VP candidate (and her husband). I don't know how much this contributes to his being behind in the polls, but it obviously isn't doing too much good.