It's Not Who They Are, It's What They Said

Carol Platt Liebau
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Posted: Aug 27, 2008 5:38 PM
There's a developing meme among liberal writers that somehow Michelle Obama has been cruelly treated -- turned into "prime time Betty Crocker" in Richard Cohen's words, or forced to "minimize their accomplishments so that certain people don't feel insulted," according to a piece in the American Prospect -- in order to be made more palatable to the hateful rubes in America.

It's all baloney, and reminiscent of the liberal handwriting and teeth gnashing over Hillary Clinton back in 1992.

Think about it: If there were endemic hostility to working mothers in this country, Michelle's husband wouldn't almost have been beaten by one.  If there were insurmountable racial hostility and resentment, Barack wouldn't be the Democratic nominee.

The reason that Hillary Clinton circa 1992 and Michelle Obama had to be made over before they were deemed -- by fellow Democrats, mind you --  to be acceptable to mainstream America isn't because of who they were.  It's because of what they said.  

In 1992, Hillary Clinton announced that she supposed she "could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas" instead of working as a lawyer.  The problem wasn't that she practiced; it was that she seemed to have so little understanding and respect for the contributions of the millions of typical, hardworking stay-at-home moms across the country.  So she had to show that she could relate to them, as well as to the hard-driving career women of whom she was a prime example.

On Monday, Michelle Obama didn't come out all in soft colors and dulcet tones to talk about her family and the American experience because Americans can't handle the prospect of a well-educated African American Ivy League professional in The White House.  She needed portray herself as a non-threatening, typical American mom because her remarks have been anything but.

I doubt many of us have ever stood next to a typical mom at a soccer or softball game who would declare that she's  proud of her country for the first time in her adult life simply because her husband's superiority has been recognized in some way; who has said -- even as her husband campaigns to lead it -- that America is "downright mean;" or who dismisses a $600 rebate check as fit only for puchasing a pair of earrings.

To the extent that Hillary or Michelle were/have been toned down, it wasn't because their lives or their achievements were somehow "threatening" to some mass of middle American yahoos.  Rather, it was because the attitudes they projected and the views they expressed were at odds with mainstream America.  It had nothing to do with who they were, and everything to do with what they said and how they acted.