I just finished reading Jodi Kantor’s The Obamas, and I think I’ve figured out why Michelle Obama is so steamed, why she groused to The Early Show’s Gayle King that she is tired of being portrayed as “some kind of angry black woman.”
There’s method behind Michelle’s stereotype-shattering offensive, why she blasted a book that is, by any measure, a positive portrait of the couple (and Michelle in particular). There’s a reason why she let loose just as Kantor launched her dizzyingly-paced and packed publicity tour—nearly nonstop interviews that started with Matt Lauer’s Today Show last week and continued last night with Jon Stewart’s Daily Show. (No one has done more to help Kantor sell books than Michelle Obama.)
The First Lady recognizes that her husband will probably run against Mitt Romney, and thus, she herself will be stuck “running” against the warm, blonde, seemingly flawless Ann Romney.
How does happy Romneyland—Ann says she and Mitt have never had a serious disagreement in 42 years of marriage—square with reports, some from President Obama himself, of Michelle’s seething anger at her husband for hanging out in Springfield as a lowly state senator instead of staying home, helping with the girls, and taking that seven-figure job befitting the first black president of the Harvard Law Review? How does the Romneys’ domestic dream square with Michelle thrusting lists of household tasks at Barack—clean the toilet, pick up groceries, take Malia to soccer practice? How does Ann’s full-time mothering square with Michelle’s need to work because, unlike the born-to-money Romneys, the Obamas needed Michelle’s income? (Michelle had expressed that she’d preferred to stay at home and raise the girls.)
And how does Mitt’s line about Ann being the person who persuaded him to run again because the country needed him to fix the broken economy square with Michelle’s much publicized disdain for—and doubts about—politics and politicians? Michelle was the mate who needed to be convinced that her head-in-the-clouds husband knew what he was doing when he ran for the U.S. Senate and then leapfrogged to the White House.
Michelle, I believe, is no more eager to run against Ann Romney than Barack is to run against Mitt. True, the First Ladies are not on the ballot, but does anyone really think that they’re not in their own kind of contest, that rejection of their husbands is not also, in a sense, rejection of themselves?
In Sunday’s New York Times, Lee Siegel described Mitt Romney as “the whitest white man to run for president in recent memory.” Atop the story ran a photo of the extended Romney family, the five handsome sons (Tagg, Matt, Josh, Ben, Craig), their lovely wives and adorable children—a photo so perfect it looks concocted by Ralph Lauren or by Disney for some impossibly wholesome primetime special. Granted, those who stereotype the Romneys as annoyingly perfect, all shiny teeth and no soul, would see Mitt Inc. as Siegel seems to: as a kind of loopily nostalgic view of “…white picket fences and stay-at-home moms” and “…the bygone world of Babbitt, of small-town Rotarians.”
Chicago Sun-Times columnist Laura Washington minced no words Monday when she called out those—the Romney name does not appear in the piece—who see the Obamas as “an affront to their hateful, stilted view of American life” and promote the “prevailing stereotype of the African-American woman as a militant creature”… someone resembling “‘Sapphire,’ the character in the racist Amos ’n’ Andy, that popular minstrel ‘comedy’ show from the 1940s and 50s. Sapphire was hostile, mouthy, unreasonable, hands on her hips, taking on men at every turn.”
Anyone who believes that Michelle will not be a factor in this year’s election needs to wise up. Ann Romney is almost a generation older than Michelle—62 to the First Lady’s 48—and living with multiple sclerosis, but she should not be dismissed as a Stepford wife. If Mitt is indeed the nominee, for all the Romneys’ seeming niceness, “nice” will not be the word to describe the coming battle.
Photography: (Michelle Obama) Esther Kang; (Ann Romney) Flickr.com/gageskidmore