For the record, I spent five days last week resisting the temptation to join the chorus of commentary regarding Michelle Obama’s intimate gathering of 40 friends and 70 Secret Service agents on the unsoiled beaches of the Spanish Costa del Sol. Too obvious a target, a topic already covered by countless critics of the current White House scene.
It never occurred to me, however, that out of that wordsmog would come a line of argument actually defending – in a time of war and 9.5 percent unemployment – a president’s wife telling the people, in effect, “When my husband took the oath of office, our family didn’t take any vow of poverty.”
It came as no surprise that David Axelrod would tell Maureen Dowd that “if you have the ability to show your kid a part of the world…I don’t think it’s right that you have to defer it because of the politics.” (Absolutely. It’s outrageous to hold people living in the White House up to political standards, as if politics had anything at all to do with their living there.)
But no, it wasn’t any predictable White House spin that leads me to join the chorus. Rather, it’s the sycophantic musings of certain members of the Washington commentariat who, if anything, outdid Axelrod in their defense of Michelle Obama’s regal exercise of the Mostel Rule, i.e., “When you got it, flaunt it!”
Consider, for example, the following rationalization from the Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus: “If Michelle and Sasha had hung out at home,” writes Marcus, “not one more American would have a job.”
Which, of course, is all too true, but for some reason brings to my octogenarian mind, for comparison’s sake, the way another Democratic First Lady spent her travel time during a period of mass unemployment and public anxiety over what the future held for their children: She went to coal fields, factory towns, and other down-on-their-luck heartland communities.
Conceded, Eleanor Roosevelt’s “vacation” trips during the Great Depression didn’t mean “one more American would have a job.” But they did tell us something about her and her husband’s – for want of a better word – “empathy” for their unemployed countrymen.