Americans presidents often go through rocky periods and face withering criticisms. But you have to give their spouses credit that they have managed to avoid any public scandals. The first ladies have an excellent record of not doing anything to embarrass the country they represent, often being held in higher esteem than their husbands.
Partly this is because they have greater discretion on what they do in public and have focused their attention on worthy and uncontroversial projects. Even those first ladies who took a more active role in their husband’s policies (such as Rosalyn Carter and Hillary Clinton) got criticized for not staying sufficiently in the background, not because they did anything wrong.
I think that Michelle Obama has been an exemplar of that tradition, with her healthy food initiative being a particularly good example of a project that is worthy, relevant, and yet uncontroversial. I cannot think of a single thing that she has actually done that might cause her to be compared negatively with her predecessors. In fact, she has carried herself with poise, dignity, and good humor even when she has been in casual unscripted settings and has not said or done anything that might reflect negatively on her or her husband.
Hence I was startled by this short interview that NPR’s Ari Shapiro had with a woman who attended an American Legion convention. Bobbie Lucier said of the Obamas, “I just – I don’t like him. Can’t stand to look at him. I don’t like his wife. She’s far from the first lady. It’s about time we get a first lady in there that acts like a first lady and looks like a first lady.”
There is something clearly different about the Obamas, especially Michelle, that disgusts this woman and makes her feel that they are different, and far worse, from those who came before. But I can’t quite put my finger on it. I wonder what it could be?
Too bad Shapiro did not ask her because it would seem like an obvious follow-up question. Or maybe he did ask and did not want to report her answer.