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November 13, 2008

First Lady Debates

Emily Bazelon and Rebecca Traister are debating the image and reality of Michelle Obama. Traister criticizes Michelle's "mom-ification" by the media. There's no doubt that's been happening. But the source for the momification isn't just media conservatism -- the message is coming in large part directly from the Obama team. Folks like Valerie Jarrett are hitting the airwaves to reassure America that Michelle won't be a "meddler" like Hillary Clinton. No matter what Michelle's level of involvement in crafting this image -- which is, of course, dictated by trying to avoid the mess Hillary got herself into in 1993 -- there's no doubt that the role of first lady involves fulfilling arch-traditional notions of wifely duty. For that reason, it's difficult, even painful, to contemplate first ladydom in the afterglow of Clinton's historic run for the presidency.

Bazelon, for her part, says she isn't "distressed" about the news that Michelle is focusing mostly on moving the family to D.C. and settling the girls into school. "I hope so!" she writes. "Because I want my president-elect working on other pressing matters like our economic crisis." If we're able to divorce image from reality, Bazelon writes, it is clear the Obamas have a marriage of equality and that Michelle is planning on wielding her first lady power to feminist good by speaking out on behalf of working mothers and military families.

And I do agree we have to keep the reality of Michelle separate from her highly polished image. One of my favorite anecdotes about the Obamas is that they met when she was his internship supervisor at Chicago law firm Sidley Austin. That Barack Obama was attracted to his boss suggests he's deeply comfortable with women in power and with powerful women -- and I love that about him. I only wish all of America was so comfortable with those concepts. If we were, there might be less of a need for Obama's inner circle, including Michelle, to highlight our new first lady's mommy qualities.

cross-posted at TAPPED

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