Obama begins with a broad assessment of life in America in 2008, and life is not good: we’re a divided country, we’re a country that is “just downright mean,” we are “guided by fear,” we’re a nation of cynics, sloths, and complacents. “We have become a nation of struggling folks who are barely making it every day,” she said, as heads bobbed in the pews. “Folks are just jammed up, and it’s gotten worse over my lifetime. And, doggone it, I’m young. Forty-four!”
… but there’s a lot more where that came from, a New Yorker profile that aims to be flattering:
From these bleak generalities, Obama moves into specific complaints. Used to be, she will say, that you could count on a decent education in the neighborhood. But now there are all these charter schools and magnet schools that you have to “finagle” to get into. (Obama herself attended a magnet school, but never mind.) Health care is out of reach (“Let me tell you, don’t get sick in America”), pensions are disappearing, college is too expensive, and even if you can figure out a way to go to college you won’t be able to recoup the cost of the degree in many of the professions for which you needed it in the first place. “You’re looking at a young couple that’s just a few years out of debt,” Obama said. “See, because, we went to those good schools, and we didn’t have trust funds. I’m still waiting for Barack’s trust fund. Especially after I heard that Dick Cheney was s’posed to be a relative or something. Give us something here!”
In Cheraw, Obama belittled the idea that the Clinton years were ones of opportunity and prosperity: “The life that I’m talking about that most people are living has gotten progressively worse since I was a little girl. . . . So if you want to pretend like there was some point over the last couple of decades when your lives were easy, I want to meet you!”
Who ever said life was easy? Who ever said it would be easy? Who ever said that it is the responsibility of government to make life easy? I mean, at this rate, why not run on the campaign slogan, “Immanentize the Eschaton”?
The profile is a treasure trove; read on.
One of the weirder comparisons I’ve seen, suggesting that New Yorker correspondent Lauren Collins has never actually encountered a Republican:
Listening to her speeches, with their longing for a lost, spit-shine world, one could sometimes mistake her, were it not for the emphasis on social justice, for a law-and-order Republican. “It’s not just about politics; it’s TV,” she says, of our collective decay. And, wistfully: “The life I had growing up seems so much more simple.” She is a successful working mother, but an ambivalent one: “My mother stayed at home. She didn’t have to work.
If you think Mrs. Obama’s comments have had a certain strange anger to them, note this anecdote:
Michelle and Barack met at Sidley & Austin, when she was assigned to advise him during a summer job. Michelle’s co-workers warned her that the summer associate was cute. “I figured that they were just impressed with any black man with a suit and a job,” she later told Barack.
A rather low opinion of her former co-workers, isn’t it? Something of an accusation of “the soft bigotry of low expectations”?
This anecdote of the Obama relationship will probably resonate, as Barack sounds like a bit of a commitment-phobe:
Barack had a more bohemian attitude toward romance. “We would have this running debate throughout our relationship about whether marriage was necessary,” Obama told me. “It was sort of a bone of contention, because I was, like, ‘Look, buddy, I’m not one of these who’ll just hang out forever.’ You know, that’s just not who I am. He was, like”—she broke into a wishy-washy voice—“ ‘Marriage, it doesn’t mean anything, it’s really how you feel.’ And I was, like, ‘Yeah, right.’ ”
I suspect Collins finally picked up the vibe that the rest of us have:
When I asked if there was an issue she has worked particularly hard to bring to her husband’s attention, she replied, “The attention that he’s focussed on work-family balance. . . . That is our life. To the extent that we have challenges, and struggles, headaches that everybody else is going through . . . those are our conversations.” (Barack has candidly chronicled their struggle “to balance work and family in a way that’s equitable to Michelle and good for our children,” and its toll on their marriage.) Her frame of reference can seem narrow. When she talks about wanting “my girls to travel the world with pride” and the decline of America “over my lifetime,” you wonder why her default pronoun is singular if the message is meant to be concern for others and inclusiveness.
And again, there’s another lengthy description of how hard life is, even groceries:
Then, having given thoughtful but boilerplate responses most of the morning, Obama suddenly departed from her script. It was the most animated I saw her on the campaign trail. “You know,” she said, “in my household, over the last year we have just shifted to organic for this very reason. I mean, I saw just a moment in my nine-year-old’s life—we have a good pediatrician, who is very focussed on childhood obesity, and there was a period where he was, like, ‘Mmm, she’s tipping the scale.’ So we started looking through our cabinets. . . . You know, you’ve got fast food on Saturday, a couple days a week you don’t get home. The leftovers, good, not the third day! . . . So that whole notion of cooking on Sunday is out. . . . And the notion of trying to think about a lunch every day! . . . So you grab the Lunchables, right? And the fruit-juice-box thing, and we think—we think—that’s juice. And you start reading the labels and you realize there’s high-fructose corn syrup in everything we’re eating. Every jelly, every juice. Everything that’s in a bottle or a package is like poison in a way that most people don’t even know. . . . Now we’re keeping, like, a bowl of fresh fruit in the house. But you have to go to the fruit stand a couple of times a week to keep that fruit fresh enough that a six-year-old—she’s not gonna eat the pruney grape, you know. At that point it’s, like, ‘Eww!’ She’s not gonna eat the brown banana or the shrivelledy-up things. It’s got to be fresh for them to want it. Who’s got time to go to the fruit stand? Who can afford it, first of all?”
A few paragraphs later:
The Obamas’ financial standing has risen sharply in the past three years, largely as a result of the money Barack earned from writing “The Audacity of Hope.” In 2005, their income was $1.67 million, which was more than they had earned in the previous seven years combined. “Our lives are so close to normal, if there is such a thing when you’re running for President,” Michelle has said. “When I’m off the road, I’m going to Target to get the toilet paper, I’m standing on soccer fields, and I think there’s just a level of connection that gets lost the further you get into being a candidate.”
Just after Barack was elected to the United States Senate, Michelle received a large pay increase—from $121,910 in 2004 to $316,962 in 2005. “Mrs. Obama is extremely overpaid,” one citizen wrote in a letter to the editor of the Tribune, after the paper published a story questioning the timing of the award. “Now, what is the real reason behind such an inflated salary?” Her bosses at the University of Chicago Hospitals vigorously defended the raise, pointing out that it put her salary on a par with that of other vice-presidents at the hospital. (As it happens, Obama has spent most of her life working within the two institutions for which she most frequently claims a populist disdain: government and the health-care system.)
I read the following and finally understood why Hillary’s carrying the “beer drinkers” and Obama’s carrying the “wine drinkers.”
More troubling to the Obamas’ image of civic rectitude is their entanglement with a campaign contributor named Antoin (Tony) Rezko in a 2005 real-estate deal. (Rezko is now awaiting trial on corruption charges.) That year, as the Tribune reported, the Obamas moved to a $1.65-million Georgian Revival mansion in Hyde Park, which features a thousand-bottle wine cellar and bookcases made of Honduran mahogany.
Again, if you need any sense of the friendliness of this profile, note sentences like this one:
Wright espouses a theology that seeks to reconcile African-American Christianity with, as he has written, “the raw data of our racist existence in this strange land.” The historical accuracy of that claim is incontestable. But his message is more confrontational than may be palatable to some white voters. In his book “Africans Who Shaped Our Faith”—an extended refutation of the Western Christianity that gave rise to “the European Jesus . . . the blesser of the slave trade, the defender of racism and apartheid”—he says, “In this country, racism is as natural as motherhood, apple pie, and the fourth of July. Many black people have been deluded into thinking that our BMWs, Lexuses, Porsches, Benzes, titles, heavily mortgaged condos and living environments can influence people who are fundamentally immoral.”
The third to last paragraph:
Back in the Explorer, I asked Obama if she thought that her husband, as the Democratic nominee, could take John McCain. “Oh, yeah. We got him,” she replied.
I realize we shouldn’t expect anything but confidence in a candidate’s spouse’s answer… but we’ll see.