Now that Barack Obama has pretty much wrapped up the nomination, it's time to raise a question that lots of people have been talking about privately but not publicly. Is it possible that Michelle Obama is the force behind Barack Obama's refusal to embrace traditional patriotic symbols? Could Obama's wife be largely responsible for the candidate's damaging associations with crackpot race-baiters like the Reverend Jeremiah Wright and the Reverend Michael Pfleger? In sum, could Obama's wife be a large part of his political problem?
Obama himself seems, at least on the surface, relatively free of the kind of corrosive racial resentment that is so common among African American activists of our day. This resentment is especially puzzling as it often comes from people who, far from being victims, have actually enjoyed benefits and privileges that they would probably never get if they happened to be white.
Consider the case of Michelle Obama. She was raised in a two-parent, middle-class family. She applied to one of America's top universities, Princeton, and was admitted. Of this experience, Michelle says on the stump, "All my life I have confronted people who had a certain expectation of me. Every step of the way, there has been people telling me what I couldn't do. When I applied to Princeton, they said: you can't go there, your test scores aren't high enough."
Which is all very moving, except that her test scores weren't high enough. Michelle Obama is part of the affirmative action generation of above-average but far-from-stellar performers who were granted preferential admission to America's most elite institutions.
Michelle notes that she graduated with honors in her major. Again, the problem is that her undergraduate thesis is on the web. You might expect that she wrote about Shakespeare's sonnets or the political evolution of W.E.B. Du Bois. Well, no. Essentially Michelle Obama wrote about the problems of being a black woman at an Ivy League university.
Here is a typical passage: "By actually working with the Black lower class or within their communities as a result of their ideologies, a separationist may better understand the desparation of their situation and feel more hopeless about a resolution as opposed to an integrationist who is ignorant to their plight."
Alas, the grammar is all wrong here. More than once, the tenses are garbled. People are ignorant "of" the plight of the lower class, not ignorant "to" their plight. And"desparation" should be spelled "desperation." To wreak so much havoc on the English language in one sentence, without conveying anything of substance, is perhaps deserving of a prize. Is this what her professors were thinking when they granted her honors? Whatever the Obamorons say, let's remember that that these are not mere typos; they reflect an estranged relationship to the English language. Moreover they appear not in an off-the-cuff transcript but in a thesis that is supposed to reflect the culmination of one's college career.
Subsequently Michelle went on to further appointments and even managed to cash in big time on her skin color and marriage to Barack Obama. She was hired by the University of Chicago hospitals to run "programs for community relations, neighborhood outrecah, volunteer recruitment, staff diversity, and minority contracting." Here her salary was $400,000 a year.
One might expect that the reaction of someone who gets so many privileges to be grateful to a society that makes them possible. But no. Michelle Obama thinks that her very success is an example of white oppression. By a bizarre twist of logic, she converts "you're not good enough, but we'll take you anyway" into a message of "they said I wasn't good enough, but I proved them wrong."
Ordinarily these psychological peculiarities may be of little interest, except perhaps to a therapist. But Michelle now stands next to a man that may be elected president of the United States. Barack Obama wants everyone to "lay off" his wife. He doesn't seem to realize that this is not a reasonable request concerning a woman who clearly influences him and who stands to have public influence in her own right. Moreover, for months the media has been laying off her precisely because she is his wife. Like Michelle, Obama seems to confuse preferential treatment with ill treatment.
Of course we've had controversial first ladies in the White House before. The Obamas, however, aren't there yet. Will Barack Obama be ultimately forced to distance himself not just from the Reverend Wright and the Reverend Pfleger but also from his own wife?