Usually the First Lady should be more or less off-limits — except, however, when her own choices and actions reflect on current controversy. The president, rightly or wrongly, is now making class an issue. His argument is that the 1 percent, the fat cats, the corporate-jet owners, and the Vegas and Super Bowl jet-setting crowd — those who don’t know when to stop making money or when it is not the time to profit — are inordinately culpable for the present economic downturn. They have not paid “their fair share” and have adopted laissez-faire practices that give them lifestyles unfairly beyond the struggling rest of us, and are thus in need of being reined in. To believe that is not just to want higher taxes on that class, but to be somewhat put off by what these top-bracket people have supposedly done to the rest of us.
Such demagogic populism in hard times, (and it is demagogic, given that a return to the Clinton tax rates would make only a small dent in Obama’s $1-trillion-plus annual deficits, and $5 trillion addition to the debt, due to his astronomical spending), has a long American history. We can excuse the fact that Michelle Obama often has a bad sense of timing — vacationing at tony places like Costa del Sol, Vail, Hawaii, and Martha’s Vineyard after making headlines by talking about “fairness.” Not to mention her past sermonizing on the unfairness of a downright mean U.S., and the moral pep talks about not going into the corporate world to make money in favor of community organizing and other more noble social work.
All that is water under the bridge. But her latest getaway to the Aspen ski resorts to stay with a billionaire ski developer, while perfectly ethical, is the proverbial camel’s straw that breaks the back of her populism — and the notion that the Obamas can make any ethical argument about the “them vs. us” divide. She sees no connection at all between presidential rhetoric and actual deed, even symbolically so — as gas goes over $4 a gallon in the west and the administration gears up for a class-warfare campaign that is making the argument that the privileged have amassed their wealth unfairly and are out of touch. The public is then confused about whether she goes to Aspen to see firsthand what the 1 percent have done with their ill-gotten gains, or to enjoy what they have, or to offer exemptions in exchange for generous campaign donations. (How does one go from being a demonized Halliburton or Koch to an enlightened Solyndra or Buffett other than professing by fealty?)
In her defense, she can point to the life lived and the rhetoric espoused by an Al Gore, John Kerry, John Edwards, or Jon Corzine, and thus legitimately ask why she should be singled out, given the accepted liberal symbiosis of aristocratic tastes and populist rhetoric.