Kelly on Twitter called it: Remember how, in 8th grade, once the bullies selected a target, everything that target did, no matter how mundane, caused the bullies to spin into outrage? Pack a sandwich in your lunch? Preposterous! Who does that? Time to mock relentlessly! Wear sneakers to school? I had a group of girls spend an entire lunch period cornering me by a tree to let me know that is the worst moral transgression they have ever seen in their lives. Get picked up by your mom from school? What a baby! (Their own moms picking them up, of course, was a perfectly understandable choice, given their circumstances.) You couldn’t carry your books right, walk up stairs right, or go to the bathroom without your stall door-shutting technique being hyper-analyzed for further evidence that you were the worst person that ever existed.
This is how conservatives treat Michelle Obama. But while junior high school bullies have rather complex strategies for picking their targets sometimes, with conservatives and Obama, what’s going on is painfully obvious: The more beautiful, funny, graceful, intelligent, and poised she is, the more they freak out at her. The naked insecurity that she provokes in them is painful to behold. And yet, behold it we must, because this shit is unacceptable.
To begin with, Michelle Obama did this funny video I’m sure you’ve all seen, of her and Jimmy Fallon promoting dance-as-exercise by doing the evolution of mom dancing, which is funny to every non-terrible person in the country who has had, been, or known a mom.
It’s hard to do this kind of life-affirming comedy well, but Fallon’s team does a great job of it, and managed to poke fun at mom-dancing while celebrating women for getting out and shaking their thing despite social pressure on mothers to quietly fade into the background. Well-played, Fallon and Obama. You are charming and wonderful people. Which, of course, means that the right wing haters have to come out.
It’s a “satire” that only works if you take it as a given that the very existence of Michelle Obama is such an outrage that the very act of dancing—and thus drawing attention to the fact that she doesn’t just wither up and die or whatever—is a triple-plus super outrage. It’s exhausting. Maybe Ta-Nehisi Coates is right and this would have worked better if Malkin could dance. As it stands, it’s hard to tell one of the “dances” from another, because they all look like the Malkin Flail to me. (I say this as someone whose lack of grace on the dance floor is only equalled by her utter enthusiasm for it, which is a rich source of reasons to tease me.) I’m skeptical, though. The boundless anger at Obama for daring to be charming and beautiful that underscores this video permanently prevents it from being funny, even if it was better-executed. “How dare you be likeable?!” is not really a good premise for a joke.
Naturally, this knee-jerk hostility towards Michelle Obama for being herself came out in spades during the Oscars, when Obama looked amazing and came across, as she usually does, as a genuine and fun person. That set off conservatives so much they came right out and said that the First Lady should hide herself in shame. (For what? Some abstract horribleness that only the right can see on her.)
(Starnes labeled his book “Dispatches from Bitter America”, as if being bitter because straight white guys might have to share some rights and opportunities with the rest of us was something to be proud of. But I guess, based on this tweet, he really is.)
It is not enough that President Obama pops up at every sporting event in the nation. Now the first lady feels entitled, with military personnel as props, to intrude on other forms of entertaining (this time for the benefit of the Hollywood glitterati who so lavishly paid for her husband’s election). I’m sure the left will holler that once again conservatives are being grouchy and have it in for the Obamas. Seriously, if they really had their president’s interests at heart, they’d steer away from encouraging these celebrity appearances. It makes both the president and the first lady seem small and grasping. In this case, it was just downright weird.
Her “concern” is noted, though of course, the reality is that the public loves the Obamas and likes seeing them around, because they’re definitely the best First Couple since the Kennedys. (Probably better, because at least we feel better about the stability of their marriage.) Also, if you’re going to complain as if it’s unusual to see anyone from the White House at the Oscars, it’s wise to do a quick Google search first. Doing so would reveal that George W. Bush, Laura Bush, and Ronald Reagan made an appearance at the Oscars. FDR did, as well.
Even the most potent argument against the President or First Lady doing events like this—that it’s somehow political, even though Obama can’t run again—is highly strained. To make it, you have to deliberately ignore the reality, which is that an important part of the executive office’s duties is being a figurehead of the state. I’d say that this seems like it was an uncontroversial statement up until the early 90s, even. (Indeed, one reason that liberals were angry about Reagan putting flowers on the graves of SS officers is that he wasn’t doing that as a private individual, but on behalf of the country.) It was only when Republicans decided that they were the owners of “real” America in the 90s and that therefore Clinton’s presidency was illegitimate that this argument even got some kind of traction. But it’s a bullshit argument, because the head of state is just that, the head of state. Coming unbent every time the Obamas act like what they are—the First Couple—only serves to reinforce the suspicion that conservatives think the Obamas don’t “count” because of their race.
Personally, I like that the Obamas have decided to dispatch their duties as figureheads by engaging heavily in pop culture. Pop culture is American culture, and it’s cool that the Obamas honor it as such. Acting like you’re too good for the living, breathing American culture that exists in the now isn’t very democratic. The President is supposed to be a citizen-leader, and engaging in pop culture is a way to demonstrate fealty to that ideal.