Commentary Magazine


Contentions

Another “First” for the Obamas

Here’s where the mainstream media’s Obamamania goes from the merely embarrassing to the downright cringe-inducing: New York magazine this week turns its worshipful eye on the First Lady, with a cover proclaiming “The Power of Michelle Obama” and a roster of no fewer than 16 writers laboring to elevate her to the iconic status already bestowed on her husband.

By far the most sophomoric offering comes from Stacy Schiff, who delves  into the “sexual politics” of the first couple. But as one has come to expect from that nebulous early ‘70s terminology, the reader is treated to a pastiche of feminist posturing, an ultimately meaningless pop-culture reference or two, and a generational triumphalism that is as grating as it is historically false.

Get a load of this paragraph:

The girl is spicy and newfangled. She’s ushering us around a social corner as much as a political one. Professional rivals, Rock and Doris leaped out of bed in those pj’s the year Obama was born; only now are we discovering what a functioning marriage between equals actually looks like. …After decades of fake financials and fictitious balance sheets, WMDs that weren’t there and detention centers that were, our new First Lady is the genuine article. She has a real body — arms! Legs! Curves! And she has a real marriage.

So, according to Schiff, “only now” — decades after the novelty of late-60′s Women’s Lib morphed into the mainstream feminism that conquered every nook and cranny of American life — “are we discovering what a functioning marriage between equals actually looks like,” thanks, of course, to the transformative magic of the nation’s new First Couple.

Such a statement should be incomprehensible to anyone who lived through the past thirty years with any degree of sentience. Put aside the two-income families that have become the norm, the power couples, the “new man” paradigm of enlightened masculinity; even a look at the presidential couples of that period — most of whom were born and raised long before the advent of Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, and company — is enough to demonstrate the fatuousness of the argument.

It would no doubt come as a surprise to many former first ladies — from Betty Ford through Laura  Bush — that their marriages were not “between equals.” All these women have been, in their individual ways, outspoken personalities.

But the kicker of course, is Schiff’s exultation that “our new First Lady is the genuine article. She has a real body — arms! Legs! Curves! And she has a real marriage.”

Funny, but I seem to recall that all the first ladies in my lifetime prior to Michelle Obama have been in possession of the full complement of limbs and parts that constitute the human form. And for all the talk during the Lewinsky scandal of an alleged propensity on the part of our presidents for extramarital dalliances, the fact is that most recent presidential marriages have been remarkably stable — “real,” if you will.

New York magazine notwithstanding, this, then, is the “power” of both Obamas — the power to take ostensibly intelligent writers and reduce them to producing the kind of incredulous, historically illiterate prose that on any other topic wouldn’t make it past the earliest stages of the editing process.