I so wish I could support Barack Obama. It would be great -- truly magnificent -- to elect a black president of the United States. Watching the convention coverage on Monday night, I was moved by my friend Juan Williams' almost tearful reaction to Michelle Obama's address. He shook his head in amazement that an African-American woman was in the position she was. And it moved me to see how moved he was. I wish I could send Michelle Obama -- so attractive, so poised, so stylish -- a cyber hug. I'd wager that millions of other Americans, like me, would love to see someone like her as First Lady.
Or at least I would love to support the person Michelle Obama has conjured for us this week -- successful working-class girl who worked hard, upheld traditional values, and was rewarded by a great nation.
But in her case, as in Barack Obama's case, there is just too much artifice and not enough reality here. Their true history keeps intruding -- and their true views remain opaque.
Mrs. Obama went to Princeton. Her solipsistic senior thesis (1985) concerned the plight of blacks at Princeton. She complained that the college's "Afro-American studies" program was "one of the smallest and most understaffed departments in the university." She further complained that only one major university-recognized group on campus was "designed specifically for the intellectual and social interests of blacks and other third world students."
Third World? Is that how she sees herself and other black Americans? That suggests a pretty advanced level of alienation -- not the happy daughter of Chicago she served up Monday night.
Michelle Obama was introduced to most Americans when she said that "for the first time in my adult life I am proud of my country" because her country seemed to be in the process of nominating her husband for president. It's hard to imagine a deep patriot mouthing those words under any circumstances, but even if we assume that her statement did not reflect her real views, there are plenty of other red flags that wave all over Michelle and Barack Obama's life.
When Michelle Obama spoke to church groups, according to a profile in the New Yorker, she would take to the podium and proclaim, "On behalf of my church home and my pastor, Reverend Wright, I bring greetings." The campaign now suggests that the Obamas, who chose the Rev. Wright to perform their wedding and baptize their children, were never really in the pews that often. But no matter how infrequently they attended, they were certain to have heard the kind of racist, bitter, anti-American rants that the Rev. Wright has perfected.
Mrs. Obama says she didn't always agree with the Rev. Wright. OK. But her own riff on American life, delivered time and again on the stump, is grim. Here is the New Yorker description:
"Obama begins with a broad assessment of life in America in 2008, and life is not good: we're a divided country, we're a country that is 'just downright mean,' we are 'guided by fear,' we're a nation of cynics, sloths, and complacents. 'We have become a nation of struggling folks who are barely making it every day,' she said, as heads bobbed in the pews. 'Folks are just jammed up, and it's gotten worse over my lifetime. And, doggone it, I'm young. Forty-four!'"
Now highlighting problems and looking for solutions does not make you unpatriotic. But Mrs. Obama does seem to have more than her share of whines for a woman who attended Princeton and Harvard Law and was able to snag jobs at the most prestigious firms. "You're looking at a young couple that's just a few years out of debt," Obama told one audience. "See, because, we went to those good schools, and we didn't have trust funds. I'm still waiting for Barack's trust fund."
Does she really think this a great country? Asked if she worried about her husband being assassinated, Mrs. Obama said "as a black man, Barack could be shot going to the gas station," as if this were 1950 Alabama. "The life that I'm talking about that most people are living has gotten progressively worse since I was a little girl."
She opened her home to William Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn. She sat in the Rev. Wright's church for 20 years. She told the Democratic convention that she loves America. Is that the real Michelle Obama? Or was it the woman who hoped her husband could deliver this country because "our souls are broken in this nation."