Political Animal


September 04, 2012 3:20 PM Michelle Obama, Then and Now

By Ed Kilgore

In looking forward to the First Lady’s speech tonight, I’m struck by how non-controversial she has become. Four years ago, she was the object of at least as much right-wing vilification as her husband, and maybe even more (indeed, the purpose of much of this obnoxious, crypto-racist noise was to establish Barack Obama’s “true” character as some sort of Frantz Fanon figure disguised as this nice sensible man).

In any event, as a reminder, I’ll offer a brief snippet from a piece I wrote in 2008 examining the attacks on Michelle Obama and how the Obamas and the campaign were handling it—and predicting they would fail dismally, as indeed they did, to the point they’ve gone away:

[T]he already-developed assault on Michelle Obama represents a sort of Greatest Hits of the nasty genre: like Eleanor Roosevelt, she’s an ideologue; like Nancy Reagan, she exerts dangerous influence over her husband; like Hillary Clinton, she’s Not Like Us…..
In the end, attacks on Michelle Obama as some sort of (literally) dark and dangerous presence face a high threshold of credibility, and ultimately depend on the belief that she reflects a hidden underside of Barack Obama’s sunny, optimistic and inclusive persona. It’s not entirely within the control of the Obama campaign to rebut that suggestion. But everything about the real Michelle Obama—and the campaign’s efforts to present her to us—should make that easier.

It did.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • pol on September 04, 2012 3:59 PM:

    I had the pleasure of touring the "other side" of the White House, many of the places the public generally doesn't get to see. When our group got to the Oval Office, it was empty, but through the window across the room, I saw Michelle, Sasha, and Malia walking by... Nice memory.

  • c u n d gulag on September 04, 2012 4:10 PM:

    I'm still waiting for that "Whitey Tape" the right told me was imminent.

    Thank goodness my breathe wasn't baited.

  • Paul Dirks on September 04, 2012 4:17 PM:

  • Daryl McCullough on September 04, 2012 4:17 PM:

    I think that anti-Michelle sentiment has dropped below the radar, but it hasn't completely gone away. After Ann Romney spoke, exuberant right-wingers gushed that she would bring some "some class back to the White House".


  • Peter C on September 04, 2012 4:23 PM:

    Who couldn't like Michelle; she's a class act from start to finish.

  • Lifelong Dem on September 04, 2012 4:24 PM:

    Iím struck by how non-controversial she has become.

    Ed, you clearly do not know my in-laws. And you should be glad for that. To them, she is still the symbol of everything that's bad about that Obama character. Maybe more so.

  • Sam on September 04, 2012 4:30 PM:

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  • Michael Robinson on September 04, 2012 4:40 PM:

    Well, at least we've moved past this:


  • g on September 04, 2012 4:55 PM:

    I would argue that,ironically,it's Ann Romney who's been politicizing the role of Candidate's Wife in an unprescedented fashion.

    Typically, Candidate's Wives speak to the character of the Candidate and offer sympathetic and empathetic niceties on the issues -- all of which both Ann and FLOTUS have done, and Mrs. Obama and Mrs. McCain did in 2008.

    But I can't recall any Candidate's Wife discussing campaigning strategy with the press to the extent that Ann Romney does this year. She talks about the tactics and messaging, and she responds to the requests for the tax returns and other info as if she's a campaign staffer. I find this unprecedented - does anyone else?

  • Charles Giacometti on September 04, 2012 4:58 PM:

    Somehow the truth won out, by and large, on this one. The First Lady is a brilliant, accomplished woman, largely self-made, but also from a fine family. She is also charming and modest, and clearly a good, loving person. From all evidence, she is also a wonderful mother and spouse. On top of it all, she handles her duties as First Lady with extraordinary grace.

    It's wonderful to drive the rubes crazy with this. She is everything they are not.

  • stinger on September 04, 2012 4:58 PM:

    She went from Terrorist Fist-Bumper to Everyone's Mom (eat your vegetables, then go outside and play). To, in fact, the Woman Who Hugged the Queen (and Whom the Queen Hugged Back). Pretty non-threatening, except to the real whackos.

    Geez, forgot about that !@#$%^&* captcha.

  • MuddyLee on September 04, 2012 5:15 PM:

    Unfortunately, in South Carolina you can still hear anti-Michelle Obama comments - from white male republicans - that must be purely based on racism. Maybe some of it is anti-elitism (a la Palin). But a lot of it sounds like the woman voter from Virginia interviewed on public radio's Marketplace show the other day who said that she could not stand to LOOK at Barack Obama and she really looked forward to Romney's election because Ann Romney LOOKED like a First Lady should. I say if we're going to talk race, let's also talk polygamist heritage and running away to Mexico to escape US laws.

  • Tired Liberal on September 04, 2012 5:50 PM:

    I also heard the woman in the public radio interview refer to wanting a first lady who "looked like a first lady again." The interviewer, as usual, did not follow. She should have asked, "Could you explain what you mean by that? What is it about Mrs. Obama's appearance that does not look like a first lady?" When will these journalists learn to do their jobs?

  • Alison S on September 04, 2012 6:41 PM:

    As a Canuck, my opinion of Michelle Obama probably doesn't matter at all. But, I think she is a breath of fresh air. She comes across as a real person, not a plastic Barbie Doll, with brains, poise, warmth and oodles of natural class. She is another, allbeit minor, reason to hope for the re-election of Obama.