Thursday, April 1, 2010

Differing with Dana Milbank . . .

Garden season is here. It's time to plant early spring vegetables, peas, greens, broccoli. Yesterday, Michelle Obama was out digging up the White House lawn again and planting seeds with a bunch of school children.

You go, First Lady! I thought.

So this morning, when I read Dana Milbank's "Washington Sketch," I scratched my head. He called it Michelle Obama's garden-variety agenda, and he seemed to me to be taking the First Lady to task for futzing around and not jumping into more controversial topics.

Here's an excerpt:
Also hard to imagine is that this is the same Michelle Obama so many feared when her husband ran for the presidency in 2008. Then, many predicted that she would be an angry and divisive presence in the White House, based largely on unfounded racial accusations on the Internet and her poorly worded boast during the primaries that "for the first time in my adult life, I'm really proud of my country."
Compared with those expectations of a fiery first lady, Obama, beginning her second spring in the White House, has turned out to be Michelle Milquetoast.. . .She has shied from controversy, made relatively few public appearances, and stuck to an unobjectionable agenda of nutrition, exercise and good parenting. It is a domestic agenda -- extremely domestic. . . . Obama has been almost demure in her pronouncements.. . .
Avoiding controversy helps Obama keep her sky-high public standing. An Associated Press poll this month found her favorability rating at 71 percent -- substantially better than those of her husband and her two predecessors as first lady. But her low profile also means that she's been underutilized as an advocate of the president's agenda.
Wednesday, with two public events on her schedule, was a relatively big day for Obama. The issues were laudable -- workplace flexibility for parents and healthy eating for children -- but offered no possibility that the first lady would make news. 
October 20, 20092009 - Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images North America 

Mr. Milbank, a couple of things I'd like to take issue with. . . .
  1. In your column you seem to be finding fault with an agenda comprised of  "nutrition, exercise and good parenting." And, with respect, I'd like to ask you if you've poked your head inside a public school recently and seen the physical shape a lot (not all, by any means) of the next generation of Americans is in? Don't they need someone to tell them to quit eating junk food and get moving.
  2. As for  making an issue out of "good parenting,"  Mrs. Obama can either travel around making speeches about it or do it. From a great distance away from the private life of the First Family, it seems to me Mrs. Obama leads in that department by example.
  3. Doesn't your finding fault with her for not speaking out on more controversial topics that would make the news, speak more to our American addiction to controversy than to Mrs. Obama's good use of her time? 
  4. And finally, we didn't elect her President, we elected her husband. Could it not be that, in these (hopefully) liberated days, rather than appearing in public as a kind of husband stand-in and political agenda cheerleader, Mrs. Obama wants to carry on as much the same person she was before the election. Which, in my opinion, sounds pretty durn healthy.
And finally, as a personal aside, and speaking as a card-carrying Boomer feminist, who builds a busy schedule around her "sacred gym time," because she considers it an investment in her health and productivity, I cannot tell you how good it is to have a President's wife who's unashamed to be physically strong and fit.

Anyone else want to chime in?


  1. Bravo!

    Heaven forbid the first lady has a little fun and teaches American kids something in the process. She has two children to take care of for crying out loud. I think Mrs. Obama is doing a great job. In fact, I think she's doing a better job than her husband and I still like him as well. More power to her.

  2. I agree with you both. I really can't think of a better or more important lesson that the First Lady can impart than how our children staying healthy, connected with the family, and building a sustainable community should be a top priority for all of us.

  3. great post about the First Lady. she walks the walk.....why it's hard for clowns like Milbank to understand makes no sense to me.

  4. Amen to your post. Two thoughts: 1. Dana Milbank is snarky. He may offer equal-opportunity snark, regardless of a target's political affiliations, but snark by itself gets SO tiresome. 2. As far as jumping into any heavy (uh, pun accidental) controversial stuff, Michelle Obama is damned if she does and damned if she doesn't. Milbank reminds us of how during her husband's campaign, opponents and the MSM demonized her as a scary radical. If ever she says anything overtly political, I'm sure they -- including Milbank -- will quickly seize that as an opportunity to revile her again.
    --Chris Edwards

  5. Dana Milkman is so admirable, her professional advices never fail to me, I'm so glad to see this wonderful post