February 23rd, 2008 by Rightsideup

If I were to ask who the Lady Macbeth of the 2008 election is, most people would quickly say “Hillary Clinton.” But this past week, Michelle Obama has been demonstrating that she has at least a small claim on that label. She’s also proving to be a possible heir to the mantle of Teresa Heinz Kerry.

Several times this week Mrs. Obama has made remarks which have landed her in hot water with at least some segments of the electorate and the blogosphere. What kicked it off was her remark that:

For the first time in my adult life, I am really proud of my country.

As others have pointed out, Michelle Obama has been an adult for around 26 years. That’s a lot of time to have passed without even one event making her proud. Now, of course, the campaign has issued clarifications on what she really meant, as has the prospective First Lady too. But this feeds the idea that both she and her husband are far more militant than they have been carefully stage managed to appear. This is the reason why Obama’s speeches are so short on substance – because the substance that’s there would be shocking to many who have found him appealing.

The second event was this comment:

Barack Obama will require you to work. He is going to demand that you shed your cynicism. That you put down your divisions. That you come out of your isolation, that you move out of your comfort zones. That you push yourselves to be better. And that you engage. Barack will never allow you to go back to your lives as usual, uninvolved, uninformed.

Some of the least charitable interpretations of this particular statement have found in it overtones of the Nazi slogan “Arbeit macht frei”, which I find to be quite a stretch and ultimately unhelpful. However, there is a nasty sense of authoritarianism here, and the fact that she – and not he – is expressing it also lends the Lady Macbeth overtones. In some ways, she seems to be more open and honest about his real ambitions / their shared ambitions / her ambitions on his behalf than he is himself. And so, far from being able to write these remarks off as the off-the-cuff comments from the candidate’s spouse, it’s possible to read deeper meaning into them.

Lastly was this one, which in some ways is the most innocuous of the bunch, unless you’re a real conspiracy theorist:

Every woman that I know, regardless of race, education, income, background, political affiliation, is struggling to keep her head above water.

Many women, especially those who stay home or working mothers, would doubtless agree that they at least sometimes feel this way. And read at that level, it’s not problematic. But two other connotations present themselves:

  • Who is her husband running against, at present? The original Lady Macbeth, of course: a woman, who presumably is struggling to keep her head above water too.
  • This feeds into the victimhood mentality of the liberal left, and really doesn’t apply to large numbers of people, precisely because you can’t simply disregard “education, income, background” and other factors. The Obamas themselves, as others have pointed out, are wealthy by any description, and although the kids may occasionally puke at inopportune moments I suspect they have it pretty good when they’re not running for president. So what are they really saying here except reinforcing the perception that woe is everyone and only the Democrats – specifically, Mr Obama – can help – classic liberal philosophy. The two combined nicely undermine the American Dream which, while perhaps questioned by some, is still a centerpiece of American self-identity.

All of the above taken together presents a certain picture which the Obama campaign is likely uncomfortable with. Despite the worthy attempts on all sides to avoid race or gender being an issue here, there’s a sense that these people are more militant about past injustices than their (his) rhetoric suggests. And there’s also a sense that beneath the smiling exterior lies something far more sinister – a hatred for country, and an authoritarian streak that ought to have everyone worried. The original Lady Macbeth, Hillary herself, is scary too, but these folks may be as competitive in this area as they have become in the primaries themselves.