In early March, the head of the Tennessee and Greater Nashville hospitality associations sent an email to a dozen or so people that compared First Lady Michelle Obama to a chimpanzee. As word leaked of this offensive humor, pressure built and the man responsible was soon fired.
To those who oppose the current health care proposal, the massive spending, and the endless barrage of new ways for government to invade our wallets and private lives, here is a message: Don't attack a good first lady.
In late 2008, I wrote a column praising Laura Bush. It brought me a totally unexpected personal note of thanks from then-President Bush. I'm not holding my breath on getting the same kind of response from this president. But no matter. I think it's important to take the opportunity brought about by this incident surrounding Michelle Obama to make three important points.
First, this stuff is more widespread than just one guy doing it in one state. I'm well aware of other such comparisons and tasteless jokes. They are more than offensive and inappropriate. They also do practical harm by painting all those who oppose the most liberal administration since Franklin Roosevelt as racist Neanderthals. That's the last possible image Obama's political opponents and detractors should be sending, especially right now, with so many key issues hanging in the balance.
Second, I must admit that I've been pleasantly surprised at the first lady's disciplined willingness to avoid playing political games most of the time. Michelle Obama is a bright and accomplished woman. When the president was sworn in, I felt sure she was going to be a sort of surrogate vice president, much as Hillary Clinton was.
Mostly that hasn't happened. Yes, she recently asked food manufacturers to speed up production of healthy food for kids, but that's hardly a radical cause. And she delivered the message as a request and not an ultimatum. She has her causes, but we see little evidence of Michelle Obama with her sleeves rolled up, burning the midnight oil with her own staff to, for example, get a massive health care bill passed.