Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Michelle Obama is good

No wonder Hillary Clinton had such a chilly reaction to Barack Obama's decision to run for president.

Barack Obama is married to a woman who makes Hillary Clinton look like a phony artifact from another century.

Michelle Obama's interview with Mary Mitchell of the Chicago Sun-Times is a clinic on how to win the women's vote.

The overwhelming impression is that Michelle Obama is nobody's victim. She doesn't talk to female voters as if they're victims, either.

"Women have taken on all this burden with fewer support from society and the government," Mrs. Obama said, "and we are all just struggling through because nobody wants to look like they're not handling it."

It's a subtle but compelling difference from the typical Hillary Clinton speech, which usually includes a list of some sample woman's problems in depressing detail, followed by the accusation that the woman is invisible to President Bush.

The interesting thing is that their basic philosophy is essentially the same. Both Clinton and Obama believe it is the appropriate role of the federal government to take money from people who have it in order to meet the needs of people who don't.

America Wants to Know doesn't share that philosophy (See "The Tyranny of the Children"), but for voters who do, Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama are like two rival storyboards from advertising agencies competing for the Democratic Party account.

In Hillary Clinton's ad, the voter is a helpless, crumpled heap on the sidewalk, a victim of illness, poverty and neglect, a sad and ignored mass of suffering. The Republicans roar by in the street, the wheels of their carriages kicking stones and dust into the faces of the invisible people who cling to the sidewalks. Then Senator Clinton rides in. "Take heart, powerless people!" she shouts. "I will put the rich in horse harness and they will pull you up into the good life that you deserve!"

But in Michele Obama's ad, the voter is a heroic figure, struggling against overwhelming odds, trying not to "look like they're not handling it" as they work and raise their kids. "We need to change our priorities and make some demands as women about what the world should look like to help us be successful in our endeavors," she told the Sun-Times.

Same product, different sales pitches.

And different pitchmen. Michelle Obama had a real career that did not depend on clients who were seeking favor from her husband. She appears to have a real marriage, without a war room of staffers knocking down bimbo eruptions. She is a working mother of two young daughters, and she doesn't live in a governor's mansion full of government-paid servants. She told the Sun-Times she plans her travel around the social schedule of nine-year-old Malia and six-year-old Sasha.

Senator Clinton, on the other hand, cannot be described as real. So entrenched is her reputation for calculated image-making that the Washington Post actually published a story about the senator wearing a lower-cut blouse on the Senate floor, believing there was some political strategy behind the decision to show a little cleavage.

"Sometimes a blouse is just a blouse," NBC's Andrea Mitchell countered.

While the Washington press corps debates the depth of Hillary Clinton's political calculation, the voters are meeting Michelle Obama, the woman that the women's movement dreamed about creating: confident, independent, and so secure that she doesn't even care if we see her without full make-up ("Who's got time to put eyelashes on and all that?"). She gives the impression that she is a real person with a real life beyond the cameras and crowds of politics.

Next to her, Hillary Clinton looks like an exotic vase at the Antiques Roadshow: the center of attention, about to be exposed as a manufactured copy.

Copyright 2007

Editor's note: You might be interested in the earlier post, "Hillary Clinton and the 'basic bargain.'"