By Earl Ofari Hutchinson, Op-Ed
Former Arkansas Governor and almost certain 2012 presidential contender Mike Huckabee recently told reporters that attacks on Michelle Obama by Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachman and others in the GOP were silly, foolish and counter-productive.
Huckabee’s push back at the Michelle-bashers was as noble as it was futile. The GOP has declared open season on the first lady for the simple reason that she’s not just any first lady, and this year is not just any political year–it’s the dress rehearsal year for the 2012 contest for the White House.
Frequent comparison is made between the GOP’s ruthless and relentless bashing of Hillary Clinton and the intensifying attacks on Michelle. But there’s a difference between the two figures. That Hillary was a major Democratic force inside the White House was confirmed when she became a U.S. Senator towards the end of her husband’s second term. She also, for a time, became the front-running Democratic presidential candidate. In short, Hillary Clinton was clearly a political threat to the GOP. Michelle Obama seemingly is not.
Yet, the attacks on Michelle are planned, well timed and calculated to sow even more doubt about President Obama and his policies. Slamming Michelle is a key part of the dirty pool equation. The safe and sensible things Michelle talks about on child nutrition, obesity, aid to military families and, of course, breastfeeding might get brief mention in the soft features section of a newspaper if it came from any other first lady and at any other time. She’d be cheered as a first lady who’s a staunch advocate for the welfare of military families and who uses her position to encourage Americans to be healthier. But those safe and sensible goals have been twisted and reviled and made the butt of cheap quips and racist cartoons from the professional Obama loathers. Curiously, with the exception of Huckabee’s criticism of Michelle’s detractors, the GOP mainstream has been noticeably silent about the attacks.
GOP has always viewed Michelle as an especially inviting surrogate for hammering Obama from the earliest days of the 2008 presidential campaign. They twisted the context of a remark she made to make it appear that she didn’t have faith in America. The Obama campaign sensed the danger and tactfully made sure that Michelle would play a traditional low-key role in her husband’s campaign, as other presidential candidate’s wives had. But the snide criticisms never really went away, especially once the Obamas were in the White House. Michelle got pilloried for her push for the failed Chicago Olympic bid, and later for uttering a few words on health care reform. Her shopping excursions, vacation in Spain and workout routine all became fodder for political sniping, gossip and ridicule.
A viral email buzzed around the Internet for a time accusing her of “unprecedented hiring” of a large staff. Even Michelle’s undergraduate thesis written in 1985 with the hardly incendiary title of “Princeton-Educated Blacks and the Black Community” was blasted as an open call for black militancy. These smears fizzled, but the jibes, taunts, and racist cartoons on the Internet never stopped. The aim is to firmly etch Michelle in the public’s mind as a power behind the White House throne and identify her with Obama’s “bad policies.”
GOP strategists frankly said as much when they slammed Michelle for sending out an email to friends and supporters touting the selection of Charlotte, NC for the 2012 Democratic Convention. Her carefully chosen words praising the city as “vibrant, diverse and full of opportunity” were about as Chamber of Commerce-tame as could be. But that was more than enough for the GOP to spring on the attack. After all, said one GOP pundit, conventions are politically partisan and because the first lady uttered a word about the Democratic convention site she was fair game.
When Michelle was asked what role she saw for herself as first lady she firmly declared she had no plans to be an overt political wife ala Hillary Clinton or Eleanor Roosevelt. She saw her role as supportive of efforts to improve the health and welfare of children and families. This is no different from the role played by Laura Bush and most other first ladies, none of whom drew a peep of criticism, let alone vilification, for their mild advocacy of pet issues. Michelle is, of course, not them. She’s the wife of the president most politically reviled by conservatives in modern times. For conservatives, the open season on her makes as much political sense as the open season on him. That’s the GOP game plan and it’s not likely to change.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He hosts national Capitol Hill broadcast radio talk show on KTYM Radio Los Angeles and WFAX Radio Washington D.C. streamed on ktym.com and wfax.com and internet TV broadcast on thehutchinsonreportnews.com Follow Earl Ofari Hutchinson on Twitter: http://twitter.com/earlhutchinson