First Lady in a fishbowl
Pity the first lady. No, seriously. She gives up her husband to one of the most demanding jobs on the planet.
She lives a highly constrained life in a gilded cage where their every movement and failure to move, every comment and thing left unsaid is parsed, dissected and spun.
In this environment, she must find a way to raise two adolescent daughters, a task any parent will concede is difficult even under conditions of normalcy.
For these eight years, she must find some way to occupy herself. To date, no first lady has held down an outside job. We’re not saying it couldn’t be done, but the obstacles are daunting, from security to conflicts of interest, whether real or politically contrived.
So, typically, many first ladies have tried to use their unofficial position to further some sort of good works, while avoiding overtly political activities that could legitimately attract criticism or complicate the work of their husbands.
In a prefeminist era, Jackie Kennedy remodeled the White House and invited artists to her home.
At a time of accelerating urban sprawl, Lady Bird Johnson took up the cause of highway beautification.
Nancy Reagan took on drug abuse with the "Just Say No" campaign.
Barbara Bush pursued family literacy and funding for preservation of the White House.
Laura Bush, a former school librarian, also championed literacy.
Michelle Obama has focused on fighting childhood obesity. Saying she wants to forge an alliance on that score with filmmakers, she made a recent appearance at the Academy Awards ceremony via satellite to announce the winner of best picture.
For her efforts, she was criticized in some quarters.
That is silly, mean-spirited political opportunism.
For her part, Mrs. Obama takes it in stride with both a keen understanding of modern America and a skin somewhat thicker than that sometimes demonstrated by her husband.
"My bangs set off a national conversation," she told reporters, alluding to the brouhaha caused by her change of hairstyle. "It doesn’t have anything to do with me. Anyone in this position has a huge spotlight, and in modern-day media the spotlight just gets more intense. I don’t attribute this to me or Barack. The culture has just shifted."
She recognizes that nearly anything she does will be defined as political by some critics of her husband.
More to the point, she knows practically any of her activities can be politicized for the express purpose of attacking her husband’s administration.
"The question becomes who defines what’s contentious and controversial," she said. "I can’t think along those notions because everyone’s definition of what’s controversial is different."
She added, "What I don’t want is just to do something to satisfy someone’s idea of what’s controversial."
That’s a healthy perspective, but critics ought to give the first lady a break.
~ Daily Freeman, Kingston, N.Y.