Paul Greenberg

Boy, it’s a good thing the Obamas decided early on in this presidential campaign not to exploit those adorable little girls of theirs for political purposes. If they hadn’t, Michelle Obama’s speech Monday night at the Democrats’ national convention would have been unbearable — instead of just slightly sickening.

What ever became of the real Michelle, the tough broad from the South Side who said what she thought no matter what? Remember her?

You know, the one back at the start of this campaign. The one who said that only now, for the first time in her adult life, was she proud of her country. We knew just what she meant, at least before she explained/weaseled out of it. Ooo-wee. That got our attention. That lady was real.

But it’s hard to conjure her up now, the Michelle Obama who wasn’t going to let her husband’s latest political flyer — not off to Springfield this time but the White House — interfere with her children’s raisin’.

What ever happened to that Michelle? In Denver’s mile-high atmosphere, she seems to have been replaced by some kind of Stepford Wife and Loyal Helpmeet. What a transformation: from cracklin’ to white bread, State Street to Madison Avenue. It brought to mind Betty Crocker’s latest makeover on the flour boxes. Or maybe a re-run of the old “Father Knows Best” sitcom from the proper 1950s.

The old Michelle Obama had to go. She’d been entirely too much her own person, acting as if you could campaign for First Lady and still be yourself. Her performance Monday night sent me off on a little nostalgia trip for the old Michelle. The way I sometimes sigh over the old Hillary Rodham, the Ivy League radical with the Coke-bottle glasses who once upon an ancient time would tell you what’s what, and give you what-for, before she became the well-coiffed Hillary! of the bumper stickers and floor demonstrations.

And now, only in a much a shorter time, like a speeded-up time exposure, Michelle Obama has undergone the same extreme makeover. Monday night should have been the equivalent of a White Sox game under the blurry lights on a sweaty summer night at old Comiskey Park. Instead, the country gets Wrigley Field with its perfectly manicured ivy on the antique brick wall. Why, how Near North Side, how . . . Hyde Park! Somebody had got to the old Michelle Obama. The world as it is had struck while she was still orating about the world as it should be.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.