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Michelle’s new role


Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus, who is smarter than your average feminist, (and has a Harvard law degree to prove it) has a column today which amounts to whining about the fact that Michelle Obama, who has a Harvard Law degree, has announced that she will be the nation’s “mom in chief” above all other roles. Marcus frets that she is choosing to be “Jackie Kennedy” when her education and ambitions fit her to be Hillary Clinton.

Jen Rubin at Contentions finds this exaperating. Marcus’s complaint, she notes, reminds us that feminism was never about choices. It was only ever about choosing power. And, Jen points out, there are two little girls here, whose lives have been upended and really need parental attention as they settle into a life that has destroyed many more “first children,” than otherwise. So Michelle is doing the right thing — as Marcus, a mother also of two girls, surely knows. And that is the real problem. Someone has to take care of the kids while the one who was elected to office thinks about his new responsibilities.

I suspect that Michelle, whether on her own, or at someone else’s urging, is also, maybe primarily, doing the smart thing. While it is hard to really dislike Barack, Michelle is pretty easy to dislike. She appears to have a very high opinion of herself, and she lacks the requisite filters to refrain from letting the rest of us know about the much lower opinion she has of her country — us, that is. So, I suspect that Michelle is undergoing rehabilitation. It is more than clear that the Obama political machine has learned well the lessons of the early Clinton failures — and key among them was the unelected First Lady’s presumption that she should have a powerful, independent policy-making role. If Michelle Obama wants political power and responsibility — and who doubts that she does? — she will have it. In due time. Quietly. David Axelrod will help her decide on a “project,” of the sort that all First Ladies take on, but hers will be higher profile and more substantive than most. Or not. We’ll see. Can Ruth Marcus, Washington insider, really believe that power only counts when it is out front and loud?

Finally, on the subject of not liking Michelle, I don’t. But I don’t wish her ill, either. So, unlike Marcus and all of these other cliche-pushers, I would not wish to force her to choose between being Jackie Kennedy or Hillary Clinton. Can you think of two less happy women? Jackie was glamorous, yes, and a good mother, it is said. But that wasn’t much of a happy life, at least until much later. Hillary’s recent triumphs notwithstanding, her personal life has not been one you would wish on a woman who seems to value married life.

Not, of course, that I expect anyone to compare Michelle to Laura Bush, but there is a happy woman, who is loved, and who has found herself in the interesting position of having the nation wish she had taken a larger role than she did.


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