Sophia Nelson at the Washington Post thinks Michelle Obama is under attack simply for being an intelligent black woman. The article is the usual leftist bilge about how unfair Life has been to the Obamas, and continues to be. In the first place, the kid-glove treatment given by the media to the Obamas relative to the McCains makes Nelson’s hypocrisy laughable, but the real truth that I believe Ms. Nelson misses is this – running for President of the United States is a grueling course of tests and examinations, for the family as well as the candidate. And when a candidate fails such tests, especially by whining that he and his family should not have to face such tests, he proves something to the American people, something vital missing from his character and skill set. Like it or not, if Barack Obama intends to become President of the United States, his wife Michelle will have to pass similar tests of character and integrity.
Nelson is quick to point to the parody portrait on the New Yorker magazine, shrilly claiming it to be an attack on all black women, saying “welcome to our world“. The fact that Michelle Obama did make comments which have been taken to mean she is hostile to the nominal American culture is not addressed; the fact that Michelle Obama has repeatedly displayed attitudes of radical political posturing is ignored; the fact that Michelle Obama wrote a thesis at Princeton wherein she argued that “assimilation into a white cultural and social structure will only allow me to remain on the periphery of society” is dismissed as old news, rejected in spite of its evidence of deep resentment of the society she hopes to help lead.
If Michelle Obama were considered someone with little influence on her candidate husband, such views might be more easily discounted, but in fact no potential First Lady is ever inconsequential, and so the views and statements of the wife of a candidate are, in fact, important signals as to the character and mindset of the candidate. The refusal by the Obama campaign to address valid questions brought up by Michelle Obama’s statements and political postures, will be seen by many undecided voters as evasive behavior. This does not mean that Obama would lose the election because of his wife, nor even that her behavior would necessarily mean voters would choose McCain. McCain, after all, has his own baggage and political past to address, and while Cindy McCain has so far avoided damaging her husband’s campaign the way Michelle Obama has made Barack’s campaign more turbulent, she also must face the tests set up to challenge those who would aspire to high office. While the public largely rejects the “co-president” role claimed by Hillary Clinton in 1993, it nonetheless expects certain assurances of the First Lady’s mind and character. This is nothing new, though. So much abuse has been heaped upon George W. Bush, that it is forgotten how Laura Bush was depicted early on. The difference is, Laura passed her test so well, that the jackals in the media found her an unproductive target. The press also challenged Hillary Clinton when her husband Bill was President, sometimes for things she said and did, and sometimes as a way to get at the President. The press challenged Barbara Bush (and came out the worse for it – remember Connie Chung?), and went after Nancy Reagan in a big way. The press had tests for Rosalynn Carter, and for Pat Nixon – not too many people noticed (or cared) what the Watergate scandal did to Mrs. Nixon. While different First Ladies and wives of candidates have seen differing levels of scrutiny from the media, all have faced the gauntlet, and no one can claim exemption from the challenge.
Ms. Nelson and people like her just don’t get it. Michelle Obama is not being challenged because she and Barack are black, or because she’s a woman, or because she and her husband have enjoyed success. The campaign to win the White House is an extremely serious set of tests, and she – like her husband – must face these tests precisely because she is being taken seriously. The answers and tone we Americans receive from Michelle Obama will tell us how seriously she takes that responsibility in her own turn.