Monday, August 29, 2011

Michelle Obama or Marie Antoinette? Who Was More Out of Touch?

The American media for the most part has been hammering the president on his lack of, well, almost anything presidential. Comments from former supporters parallel the complaints of Rush Limbaugh and other conservatives in 2008. The president looks overwhelmed, incapable, and out of touch. But his worse public relations problem may be his wife.

First Ladies don't normally attract bipartisan scorn. Few complaints were aimed at Laura or Barbara Bush, who were models of grace and dignity. Nancy Reagan and Hillary Clinton attracted criticism because opponents saw them as too involved in their husbands' presidency.

Michelle Obama has not involved herself much in policy, but has not escaped controversy. Last week, Maureen Dowd wrote in her New York Times column that Obama dared not cut short his vacation at swanky Martha's Vineyard because it might anger Michelle. British newspapers have joined American conservatives in blasting her incessant and expensive vacations that drained the federal government of at least $10 million in the past year. Neither Obama seems to understand that vacationing and playing round after round of golf whole lecturing the country on sacrifice might lower their credibility a bit. George W. Bush got attacked for travel too, but mostly went to his own home in Texas to work.

The name that often pops up in relation to Michelle Obama has been Queen Marie Antoinette of France. As the popular story goes, a concerned citizen approached her at a party and asked her if she knew that the people had no bread. Her response of "let them eat cake" drew derision for years as a typical example of ignorant wealth. In reality, Marie Antoinette sympathized with the poor and constantly tried to learn more about their plight. When she said "let the eat cake," her hand gestured towards tens of pounds of uneaten cake that would go to waste otherwise.

Marie Antoinette had little knowledge, but overwhelming sympathy. Michelle Obama has mainly gone on vacation and condemned poor parents who feed their children cheap and fattening food over expensive, price supported, fresh fruits and vegetables. She will probably go down as one of the least liked First Ladies in history, a difficult feat indeed.

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