Commentary Magazine


Was It the Lavish Vacation?

Politicians of both parties fall prey to gaffes of the “lives of the rich and famous” variety. But liberals, very rich ones, are especially susceptible to flaunting their wealth because they can’t imagine that their motives and dedication to the poor and the underprivileged would be called into question. After all, they support every social engineering project of the liberal welfare state, insist that taxes (well, other people’s taxes) be increased and redistributed, and attend so many important charitable functions in each-other’s magnificent homes. Hence we have the John Kerry “park the yacht elsewhere” gambit, which was quickly reversed when the voters thought it peculiar that Kerry didn’t want to pay $500,000 in taxes that he would have be owed, had he docked his floating palace in the Commonwealth’s waters.

Then there is Michelle Obama. After a rocky campaign, she’s gone on a charm offensive that puts to shame her husband’s Jewish “make nice” outreach. She grows vegetables. She exercises with children. No more do we hear about the America she was never proud of before Hillary went down the tubes in the primary. (And really, what’s not to like about a country that elevates your husband to the White House and confers queen-bee status on you?) But there, too, the bloom is off the rose: “The first lady’s rating, a combination of the very positive and somewhat positive answers, has fallen from 64 percent in April ’09 to 55 percent in January 2010 to 50 percent today.” Byron York thinks it is the vacation that may have done it:

Mrs. Obama’s personal popularity is lower than former First Lady Laura Bush’s ratings in the same poll by the same pollsters. In December, 2001, 76 percent of those surveyed had a positive opinion of Mrs. Bush. In February 2005, that number was 65 percent. In October 2006, with her husband’s job and personal approval ratings plummeting, Mrs. Bush’s personal approval rating was 56 percent.

Michelle Obama received the first negative press of her time in the White House in recent weeks during her vacation trip to Spain. Critics questioned why the first lady chose to go to a glitzy, high-priced resort at a time when unemployment is high and many Americans are suffering economically. The White House pushed back, first giving reporters the story that Mrs. Obama made the trip to comfort a friend who had recently lost her father and then stressing that the first lady is so popular that she will be in great demand by Democrats campaigning for House and Senate seats this November. But the new Wall Street Journal/NBC numbers suggest that Mrs. Obama’s popularity is falling, not rising.

It may be that the lavish trips (maybe the date night in New York was over the top?) aren’t the only thing at work. Perhaps, unlike Laura Bush, who — feminists, hold on to your hats — carved a separate identity and established a pleasing persona, which survived her husband’s ups and downs, Michelle has not. She is the perfect distillation, as is her husband, of the elite left (don’t tell me she was raised as middle class; she was educated in the Ivy League and lived a life of privilege from Hyde Park on). She and he are two peas in a pod. And right now the public seems increasingly fed up with both of them.