early and often

Should Michelle Obama ‘Soften’ Her Image at All?

Michelle Obama

Obama after a tony Democratic fund-raiser in New
York last night.Photo: FilmMagic

During the presidential campaigns of the nineties, the Democrats had an outspoken white candidate’s wife. In the early 2000s, they had an outspoken older candidate’s wife. Now the outspoken candidate’s spouse is black, and yes, it’s new — but do we still have the capacity to be surprised by all this? Apparently so. (We seemed less shocked by the prospect of an outspoken candidate’s husband, and that would really be a change.)

The Times today has a 2,000-word story walking us through Michelle’s race-infused history, something that’s been done before but apparently bears repeating. We don’t learn much that’s new, but it gives Michelle the chance to make some offhand remarks about diversity that feel very real. It “can’t be taken care of with 10 kids,” she says, referring to her days at Princeton. “There is an isolation that comes with that.” She adds that she hates diversity training. “Real change comes from having enough comfort to be really honest and say something very uncomfortable.”

True enough. But is Michelle the one to say it? Maybe not. The Times explains that the Obama campaign will attempt to soften her image, and putting her on The View today is part of that. Whoever made that plan, though, obviously hasn’t watched the show lately. It’s practically designed to get people to say controversial things because the conversation is so uncontrolled and off the cuff. The Post sagely predicts that “the claws could come out” when she faces off against Republican-American princess Elisabeth Hasselbeck.

The Obama campaign has also made another attempt to soften her up, and we’re not sure it’s the right move either.

Michelle Obama

Us Weekly has been dabbling in politics pretty regularly lately, which is good for them. But by making Michelle a tabloid creature, we’re not sure voters will identify with her more. Us gives its subjects the “Stars, They’re Just Like Us” treatment, the point of which is to really underscore that they’re actually not like us at all. They’re special, bizarre creatures that have to strain to appear normal.

On The View, Michelle will have a much better chance to show herself. It may not “soften” her image, but that shouldn’t be the point. Her obstacle is not being outspoken; it’s that people don’t understand how she is outspoken. Seeing her in a chatty, nearly natural environment will be a good way to display her personality and demonstrate how controversial things can come out of the mouth of a person who is, inherently, uncontroversial. Which is why we’re going to live-blog the show later today. By being funny and normal and speaking her mind, she is, actually, just like us. It’s just easy to forget it when you only read a sentence or two in print.

Oh, and Elisabeth Hasselbeck? You’re doomed.

Michelle Obama Looks for a New Introduction [NYT]

Should Michelle Obama ‘Soften’ Her Image at All?