The other day I received an e-mail from a 77-year-old female reader who wondered the following:
David, What is your concept of Michelle Obama's statement about the first time being proud of America? To me, it seems like she has a dislike of America.
This sentiment is currently being manufactured for political gain by the Tennessee Republican Party, who has apparently decided that Michelle Obama is the next Reverend Wright. You see, they've put together a catchy little "ad" that replays the would-be First Lady's sound-bite remark over and over again, interspersed with average white Americans (and one Hispanic!) reciting long-winded statements on what makes them proud of America.
Of course, what rankles so many, and what the GOP is attempting to make political hay over, is the qualifier "first time in my adult life." Here's Michelle Obama's clarification:
Look. I know this may come as a shock to some of you, but there are many people in this country whose emotional palate is not entirely composed of the colors black and white. Yes, Michelle Obama's statement--a three second blip replayed ad nauseam--was a political slip of sorts. In tandem with such other manufactured controversies as flag pins and strange sounding names, it might even be enough to tip the balance for some voters away from Obama.
As Barack Obama has often said in this campaign, nuance doesn't play well in politics. You hit your points over and over again, reduce complex issues into bumper sticker slogans. You bash and bash and bash again. But here's the funny thing: that's precisely why the Michelle Obama ad (like the Reverend Wright ads used in Mississippi) will ultimately fail. This ham-fisted attack is too transparent, too repetitive. Moreover, it is, once again, a bunch of Southern whites (and one Hispanic!) beating up on a black woman. The message that these two black people aren't patriotic enough to be trusted with the White House will indeed play to those bigots who already believe as much. But more people will see it for what it is.
Even if you think that Michelle Obama was caught in a moment of candor for her initial remark--that she hadn't ever been proud of America in her adult life until this year--so what? She is proud now, maybe she was proud as teenager, or a toddler. Maybe she went through a bitter phase while delving into America's shameful history of race relations when she wrote her college thesis. The question we should be asking ourselves is, what did her feelings for the country inspire her to do? Did she go postal? Burn any flags? Give whitey the finger? No. No. And no.
What was the context of her remark, anyway? That she was proud at how many new people were getting involved in politics. Oh, the horror! Is there a racial subtext to her comment. Absolutely. As Tom Hanks put, we are poised to elect a person to our nation's highest office who, at one time in our country's history, was only considered three-fifths of a human being. Make no mistake, that is a first.
The GOP should be very wary of attempting to score political points off of Michelle Obama. Who is on the other side of that equation, after all? Cindy "I-will-never-release-my-tax-returns" McCain, the multi-millionaire heiress to a beer-distributor fortune. Do we really want to reduce our potential first ladies into political symbols?
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