Friday, September 12, 2008

The Would-Be President's Lady

I can't keep quiet about Michele Obama any longer. First, I want to make one thing clear. She doesn't have my admiration because she's black . I respect her because she's an accomplished lawyer, an equal partner to her husband, and a caring, protective mother; she projects a well-developed sense of self.

When she appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show prior to the primary, she pointed out that she has her own fulfilling career, and she's not merely a prop for her politician-husband, Barack Obama. She explained that she and Barack made the decision to step onto the national stage after prolonged discussion. A major drawback was the idea of exposing their family to intensive media scrutiny. They had reason for concern.

One highly-publicized comment prompted an immediate outcry. Speaking to a crowd in Milwaukee, Michele said, “…hope is making a comeback…for the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country. And not just because Barack has done well, but because I think people are hungry for change. And I have been desperate to see our country moving in that direction and just not feeling so alone in my frustration and disappointment.”

The media and Republicans lashed out at her, decrying her words as unpatriotic. Later, a Nevada radio talk show host said of her keynote address at the Democratic convention that America was shown a “new Michele Obama,” and that her image had been “photo-shopped.” Who, I wonder, do they imagine the “real” Michele is? Do they honestly believe that this daughter of America hates her country? It would have been refreshing for some journalist to engage her in a frank exchange about her comments. Instead, she’s been lambasted as un-American for exercising her Constitutional right to free expression.

Countless African-Americans, from all economic strata, share her “frustration and disappointment” in the face complex, long-standing social and economic problems that beset our communities. Among these, but not limited to, are disparities in access to and quality of health care. For example, the black infant mortality rate is twice that of white infants; the HIV/AIDS death rate is more than seven times that for whites; and black women have higher cancer death rates.

Any politician--or presidential candidate’s wife--who, however mildly, expresses dismay or dissatisfaction over issues affecting black constituents is deemed a polarizer; hence, meaningful discourse is quashed or dismissed with a big "Ho-Hum."

Michele Obama projects an image--well-groomed, upbeat, and articulate--that should be non-threatening to voters. With so much at stake, she can‘t afford not to. But I predict that if she becomes First Lady, she will surprise us all by her outspokenness and advocacy on behalf of all Americans.

(This blog was started when the Obama campaign was in full swing, shortly after the Democratic National Convention and pre-Sarah Palin. Hopefully, Senator Obama can reinvigorate his bid for the Presidency and bring a fresh perspective to the White House.)