Questions for Mrs. Obama

“I’ve got a loud mouth.” — Michelle Obama

President Bush may be despised by Old Europe elitists and South American dictators; in Africa, however, he is adored. And it’s easy to see why. As rocker and Africa activist Bob Geldof said this week, Bush “has done more [in Africa] than any other president so far. This is the triumph of American policy, really.” 

The Bush Administration has devoted $15 billion to combating AIDS/HIV in Africa, which, as Joe Loconte notes, has “prevented more than 10 million new cases of mother-to-child HIV transmission.” Mr. Bush recently pledged to double that amount to $30 billion. The President’s Malaria Initiative has already reached 25 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa. And a big reason that over 98 percent of African exports to the U.S. entered the U.S. duty-free last year was because Bush worked with Congress to extend the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). And so on. 

You’ll excuse Michelle Obama for missing all that good news. After all, she wouldn’t have heard about all the millions of lives saved and transformed by Mr. Bush’s Africa initiatives from the media. (As Geldof scolded the press: “You guys didn’t pay attention.”) Regardless, in her mind, the good news out of Africa pales in comparison to the “Good News” brought by her husband’s presidential candidacy. Speaking in Madison, Wisconsin, earlier this week, Mrs. Obama said: 

“For the first time in my adult lifetime, I’m proud of my country. And not just because Barack has done well, but because I think people are hungry for change. And I have been desperate to see our country moving in that direction. And just not feeling so alone in my frustration and disappointment I’ve seen people who are hungry to be unified around some basic, common issues and it’s made me proud.”

Well. I have “some basic, common” questions for Mrs. Obama. 

Is this really the first time since 1982 (the year you turned 18) that people have been hungry for change? What about 1992, when Bill Clinton catapulted from obscurity to the presidency making a direct appeal to “change.” Were people “hungry for change” in 1994, when Republicans made unprecedented gains in the House (54 seats) and Senate (8 seats) to re-take Congress for the first time since 1954?  In which direction have you been “desperate” to see the country move? Toward change? 

And what, precisely, are the “basic, common issues” so many people are “hungry to be unified around”? Around the political ideas and policy positions of your husband, the Senate’s most reliably liberal member? Do his views represent real change from partisanship politics? 

Also, is your husband’s candidacy really the first time you’ve been proud of your nation? 

Did you not feel even a tinge of pride when you learned of America’s successful effort to help defeat communism and liberate millions of people in Eastern Europe? Did your heart not swell with pride when you learned how your fellow citizens on United Flight 93 bravely fought back against jihadist hijackers and prevented another disaster on September 11?  Did your spirit not jump with love of your homeland as Americans of all races and classes rallied together in defense of our nation in the aftermath of 9-11?
Mrs. Obama: You and your husband are living examples of the American dream. You both have Ivy League degrees and make a joint income of over one million dollars a year. You live lives that most Americans can only dream of. Yet, somehow, you’ve been unable to find the pride in America that millions of ordinary Americans feel every day. 

As a former presidential candidate, I realize that all of the thousands of words you say everyday on the campaign trail are subject to relentless scrutiny, and that every rhetorical error is immediately seized upon by the media and your opponents. But why have you not apologized for, or retracted, your remark? Why instead did you repeat the line, only adding the qualifier “really” before “proud,” at a later campaign stop in Milwaukee?

Your husband has, in attempting to clarify your statements, explained that what you meant to say was that, as he put it, “this is the first time she’s been proud of the politics of America, because she’s pretty cynical about the political process, and with good reason, and she’s not alone. But she has seen large numbers of people get involved in the process, and she’s encouraged.” 

Many Americans are cynical about the political process, but I’m not so sure your husband’s candidacy helps alleviate that cynicism. 

Last March your husband’s campaign stated: “If Senator Obama is the nominee, he will aggressively pursue an agreement with the Republican nominee to preserve a publicly financed general election.” Barack reiterated this position in a questionnaire last November. Likely Republican Nominee John McCain has maintained that he will accept public funds. But last week when asked if Obama’s earlier position amounted to a pledge, a spokesman for your husband said: "No, there is no pledge." Does this flip-flop make you more cynical about the political process, or less so?

Do revelations about your husband’s plagiarism of Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick’s words make you prouder of the “politics of America,” or less proud?

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, your husband has given $700,000 to the campaigns of the Democratic superdelegates who may well end up deciding the party’s nominee. Should the “large numbers of people get[ing] involved in the political process” be “encouraged” by the perception of vote-buying?

One last question, Michelle: Should Americans be concerned that their would-be First Lady’s only hint of pride in her country over the last quarter century was, according to your husband’s clarification, a result of the large numbers of people getting involved in a political process about which you feel “pretty cynical”?  It’s difficult to feel hopeful about all that.