Skip to comments.Mrs Grievance ... Mark Steyn
Posted on 04/25/2008 1:52:01 AM PDT by Rummyfan
Michelle, ma belle: These are words that go together well. She looks fabulous, like a presidential spouse out of some dream movie glossy hair, triple strand of pearls, vaguely retro suits that subtly remind you shed be the most glamorous first lady since Jackie Kennedy.
Michelle, fear, cynicism: These are words that go together more problematically. Mrs. Obama is most famous for declaring, about her husbands candidacy, that for the first time in my adult lifetime Im really proud of my country. Just a throwaway line reflecting no more than the narcissism and self-absorption required to mount a presidential campaign in the 21st century? Possibly were it not for the fact that almost every time the candidates wife speaks extemporaneously she seems to offer some bon mot consistent with that bleak assessment.
YOU MUST WORK, DECLARES DEAR LEADER And when she stops looking back across the final grim despairing decades of the 20th century (Life for regular folks has gotten worse over the course of my lifetime) and contemplates the sunlit uplands of the new utopia, it doesnt, tonally, get any cheerier. Pretend for a moment that the name of the candidate had been excised from the following remarks. Would it seem part of the natural discourse of a constitutional republic of citizen legislators? Or does it sound more appropriate to the leadership cult of Basketkhazia or some other one-man stan?
[INSERT NAME OF MESSIANIC LEADER HERE] will require you to work. He is going to demand that you shed your cynicism. That you put down your divisions. That you come out of your isolation, that you move out of your comfort zone. That you push yourselves to be better. And that you engage. [LEADER] will never allow you to go back to your lives as usual, uninvolved, uninformed.
The above words were his wifes vision of life under the administration of Barack Obama, the transformative presidential candidate offering change you can believe in or else. I hate to sound like Im walled up in the Shed of Cynicism, but the constitutional right to be uninvolved and uninformed is one of the most precious, at least if the alternative is being required to work at coming out of your isolation and engaging with fellow members of the uninvolved, uninformed masses as we push ourselves to move out of our comfort zone.
Fortunately, none of that seems to mean anything in real English, though it has the makings of a totalitarian therapeutic rewrite of Put on a Happy Face:
Gray skies are gonna push off Move out your comfort zone Barack will work your tush off Move out your comfort zone Give up your gloomy lives so uninvolved Its not allowed Barack requires every one involved So join the crowd . . . Im willing to cut presidential spouses a lot of slack. When Senator Obama said Jeremiah Wright was like a goofy uncle, it was pointed out that your relatives are a given but you get to choose your pastor. Its true that you also get to choose your wife, but, unless youre particularly far-sighted, you dont always choose with a presidential run in mind. I found Teresa Heinzs tone-deafness to the rhythms of democratic politics one of the more charmingly genuine features of John Kerrys phony-baloney populist campaign. Who wouldnt love a woman who, shanghaied into lunching at Wendys, demands to know what chili is and has to have it explained to her by the clerk that its a meat-based food dish widely consumed around the United States?
Oddly enough, despite being a couple of decades younger and several gazillion dollars poorer, Mrs. Obama has a tin ear even Mrs. Kerry must marvel at. Addressing a group of struggling women in economically torpid central Ohio, Michelle Obama eschewed the usual I-feel-your-pain shtick and invited her audience to feel hers, lurching into a long riff on the expense of extracurricular activities for her daughters, piano and dance and summer camp, and somehow she and Barack are expected to figure out how to pay for it on a combined salary of 500 grand a year, not including his book royalties and her corporate directorship. (Nor the house they bought for $1.6 million.) Mrs. Obamas plaint was worryingly reminiscent of the time the Prince of Wales, attempting to bond with some of the British Armys black recruits, said that he too knew what it was to suffer prejudice: At his boarding school some of the boys had been prejudiced against him because he was a prince. (The people in my dormitory are foul, he wrote to the Queen in 1964. They throw slippers all night long or hit me with pillows.)
You can understand why a visit to Wendys by Teresa Heinz, a Portuguese Mozambican ketchup heiress, should come off like an ill-advised anthropological expedition, but its less clear why so much of American life should seem so foreign to Michelle Obama. Come presidential season, the Democrats prefer blind dates while the Republicans make do with the old coot whos been pestering them for a night out since Gold Diggers of 1935. So the Dems nominate total unknowns Carter, Dukakis, Clinton while the GOP nominates fellows they know only too well Bush 41, Dole, McCain.
In the case of Barack Obama, its not just that hes unknown, but that he seems eerily unknowable. When assorted members of the Kennedy clan endorsed him, I was struck by the one respect in which Senator Obama is undoubtedly Kennedyesque: Like JFK, hes cool and a little remote in public; hell shake hands, hell kiss babies, hell essay a self-deprecating remark or two, but thats it. In a white guy, the cool would seem arrogant: Even Jack Kennedy couldnt get away with being Jack Kennedy on the stump in 2008. Yet, next to an oleaginous, ingratiating creep like John Edwards, flaunting his Dickensian childhood, Obama is, like Churchills Russia, a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. And, as with Churchills Russia, its not always clear whether the interests of Obama and the United States always coincide. In the youthful chapters of his autobiography, Dreams of My Father, Barack deploys terms such as Eurocentrism and post-colonialism with amused detachment, as if to reassure us that even at college these were only ever drolly ironic concepts to him or, at any rate, merely the universal passwords to sex and drugs. But the same amused detachment pervades the later chapters. On a recent conference call to discuss debate strategy against Hillary, Mrs. Obama interrupted the high-priced consultants to urge, Barack! Feel dont think. But its not apparent what, if anything, Barack does feel.
THE SOULS OF CONFLICTED FOLK Thats where Michelle comes in. Whether or not Senator Obamas friends know him, he doesnt seem to know them, not if Tony Rezko or Jeremiah Wright is anything to go by. After another medley of Jeremiahs Greatest Hits was released, the senator declared: All of the statements that have been the subject of controversy are ones that I vehemently condemn or, as translated by Slates Mickey Kaus, If it offends you, I condemn it. The Wright brother flies solo as far as his wilder flights of fancy are concerned. Well, okay. But the problem for the enigmatic Obama is that his wife gives every indication of broadly subscribing to the Reverend Wrights world view, albeit without the profanity and accompanying pelvic thrusts.
She was born in 1964, so, unlike, say, Condi Rice, she has no vivid childhood memories of racial segregation. She grew up in a conventional two-parent household that, though poor and living in a small apartment, gathered each evening for dinner, so shes not a victim of the Great Societys atomization of the black family. She was among the first generation to benefit from affirmative action, which was supposed to ameliorate the lingering grievances of racism but seems, in Mrs. Obamas case, merely to have transformed them into post-modern pseudo-grievance. All my life I have confronted people who had a certain expectation of me, she told an audience in Madison. Every step of the way, there was somebody there telling me what I couldnt do. Applied to Princeton. You cant go there, your test scores arent high enough. I went. I graduated with departmental honors. And then I wanted to go to Harvard. And that was probably a little too tough for me. I didnt even know why they said that.
But hang on. Her test scores werent high enough for Princeton. Yet, rather than telling her, You cant go there, they took her anyway. And all the thanks they get is that her test scores are now a recurring point of resentment: The stuff that were seeing in these polls, she told an interviewer, has played out my whole life. You know, always been told by somebody that Im not ready, that I cant do something, my scores werent high enough. If you were, say, Elizabeth Edwards and your scores werent high enough, thatd be that (Teresa Heinz could probably leverage the whole Mozambican thing). Yet Mrs. Obama regards state-mandated compensation for previous racism as a new burden to bear.
In an early indication of the post-modern narcissism on display at Zanesville, she arrived as a black woman at Princeton and wrote her undergraduate thesis on the problems of being a black woman at Princeton. Princeton-Educated Blacks and the Black Community is a self-meditation by the then Miss Robinson on the question of whether an Ivy League black student drawn remorselessly into the white world is betraying lower-class blacks. As she put it:
A separationist is more likely to have a realistic impression of the plight of the Black lower class because of the likelihood that a separationist is more closely associated with the Black lower class than are integrationist [sic]. By actually working with the Black lower class or within their communities as a result of their ideologies, a separationist [sic] may better understand the desparation [sic] of their situation and feel more hopeless about a resolution as opposed to an integrationist who is ignorant to their plight. Ah, the benefits of an elite education. The thesis is dopey, illiterate, and bizarrely punctuated, but so are the maunderings of many American students. What makes Miss Robinsons youthful opus relevant is that the contradictions it agonizes over have dominated her life. Indeed, her apparent bitterness at a society that has given her blessings she could not have enjoyed anywhere else on earth seems explicitly to derive from her inability to live either as an integrationist who is ignorant to [the] plight of the Black lower class or a separationist embracing its hopelessness and desperation. Instead, she rode her privileged education to wealth and success and then felt bad about it. Thats why she talks about money her money more than any other contender for first lady ever has: Its like an ongoing interior monologue about whether she sold out for too cheap a price. Still, shes learned her lesson. As she told her listeners in Ohio:
We left corporate America, which is a lot of what were asking young people to do. Dont go into corporate America.
Thats what the Obama campaign is asking young people to do? Dont go into corporate America? But isnt corporate America what pays for, among other things, the Gulf Emirsized retinue of courtiers the average U.S. senator now travels with?
And in what sense did the Obamas leave corporate America? Mrs. Obama works for the University of Chicago Hospitals. Shes not a nurse or doctor. Shes a lawyer who was taken on by the hospitals in 2002 to run programs for community relations, neighborhood outreach, volunteer recruitment, staff diversity, and minority contracting. In 2005, she got a $200,000 pay raise and was appointed Vice President for Community and External Affairs and put in charge of managing the Hospitals business diversity program.
You can appreciate why Barack Obama is less gung-ho than Hillary for socialized health care. If you work at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal, there are certainly the usual professional diversity apparatchiks, but theyre not pulling down 300K a year plus benefits. You need a corporate sector for that.
This is what makes Michelle Obama in Zanesville another Teresa Heinz in Wendys or Prince of Wales making small-talk with black squaddies. Her adult lifetime has been spent in some of the most unrepresentative quarters of American life: Princeton, the ever-metastasizing bureaucracy of diversity enforcement, and Jeremiah Wrights neo-segregationist ghetto of Afrocentric liberation theology and conspiracy theory. If young people were to follow the Obamas message and abandon corporate America for the above precincts, the nation would collapse. Michelle Obama embodies a peculiar mix of privilege and victimology, which is not where most Americans live. On the other hand, it does make her a terrific Oprah guest: Unlike her sonorous, dignified, restrained husband, she has exactly the combination of wealth and vulnerability prized by connoisseurs of daytime talk shows.
Theres something pitiful about a political culture that has no use for Mitt Romney, a hugely successful businessman, but venerates a woman who gets more than 300 grand for running a neighborhood outreach and staff diversity program. They seem curious career choices for the closest confidante of a man who claims to be running as a post-racial candidate. Which Barack Obama certainly could have been: Hes no tired old race-baiter making a lucrative career out of grievance-mongering, like Jesse Jackson, President-for-Life of the Republic of Himself. In many ways, hes similar to Colin Powell, a bipartisan figure born to a British subject (in Powells case, from the Caribbean; in Obamas, from colonial Kenya) and thus untinged by the bitterness of the African-American experience. And yet the two most important figures in Obamas adult life exemplify all the tired obsessions he was supposed to transcend. I dont agree with Powell on anything very much, from abortion to Iraq. But, with hindsight, its a tragedy that he didnt have the fire in his belly to run in 1996. He was truly the post-racial candidate Senator Obama poses as.
Most Americans even those upscale white liberals who embraced Obama as the new black best friend theyd been waiting for all these years dont want to think about race that much. I dont suppose the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, in his new, 98 percent white gated community, even thinks about it that much. And as Michelle Obama advised: Feel dont think. Is it a bumper sticker yet? It ought to be. It gets to the heart of the matter better than change you can believe in, belief you can change, change you can feel, hope you can grope, or the rest of the pleasantly gaseous uplift. Everyone feels good about Obama. Hes the fellow weve wanted to feel good about for so long. But Michelle Obama, and her own uncertain feelings for America, put a big question mark over that.
Good read, as Steyn always is. Thanks for the post.
Bump for the SteynPost!
Home run, once again!
They really have had her on a short leash as of late. She could turn out to be one of his biggest liabilities in this campaign.
First: Sweety, try working on your grammar. You always sound like you are still in high school.
Second: There are probably several million white kids in this country every year wanting to go to Harvard, Yale, MIT, Caltech, etc., who hear these same things from their high school counselors. And the counselors are correct 95% of the time. But those kids didn't have affirmative action to get them into those schools and to get them hired by the corporate America you so easily despise.
What an ungrateful churl you are!
>>And yet the two most important figures in Obamas adult life exemplify all the tired obsessions he was supposed to transcend.
Worth saying again.
Thanks for the post.
OK, when I stop laughing, I'm going back to read the part after this line.
I still can’t understand why she gets so much money from a hospital for doing so little. That jump in pay had to be related to a government ‘earmark’ Barry funnelled to that hospital. This really should be investigated.
I never thought Jackie O - or at the time Jackie K - was that pretty or glamorous. I am of the opinion that Laura Bush is the prettiest First Lady the United States has had in the last 100 years or so.
15½ posted on 04/25/2008 7:06:04 AM EDT by Michelle Hussein Obama (I'm used to doing stuff that people told me I wasn't supposed to do...)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies | Report Abuse ]
Steyn is a national treasure.
Long but a great read. Madam O is a liability. I am positive it is she who found the Rev. Wright first and brought Obama to that church.
Mrs. Obama’s whole life seems to be Afro-centric - from writing her undergrad thesis on her perceptions of race at Princeton to her current job. As long as the U.S. makes it possible to get college degrees and to have 6 figure careers based on focusing on racial grievance, it will continue to get more of the same and the nation will never get past “race”.
Not a bad gig for her huh? And she makes six figures for that. Perpetually aggrieved while she has been admitted to and educated at institutions that many other applicants would give anything to have the opportunity. When I hear her speak, I can’t believe she’s a graduate of Princeton and Harvard.....
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.