Thursday, June 25, 2009


Poor Michelle Obama. According to the Washington Post, she feels "unfulfilled," and is looking for a larger role in her husband's administration.

For weeks, Michelle Obama had been telling her staff and closest confidantes that she wasn't having the impact she wanted. She is a woman of substance, with a background in law, public policy and management, who found herself relegated to role model in chief. The West Wing of the White House -- the fulcrum of power and policy -- had not fully integrated her into its agenda. She wanted more.


Although [Barack] Obama's job-approval ratings have soared (editors note: huh?), the first lady -- a Harvard-educated lawyer -- wasn't satisfied with coasting. She is hiring a full-time speechwriter and has instructed her staff to think "strategically" so that every event has a purpose and a message. She doesn't want to simply go to events and hug struggling military families, she said; she wants to show progress. "Her desire is to step out more and have deliverables," said communications chief Camille Johnston. "It's about things that are coming up that we want to be a part of: child nutrition reauthorization act, prevention and wellness for health-care reform."

In the past couple of weeks, Obama has been more vocal about the specifics of the president's health plan, and she will play a substantive role in promoting it. She will soon announce the creation of an advisory board to help military families. And she will be the face of the administration's United We Serve, a summer-long national service program, which she launched on Monday. Even her social events have a message: She let congressional families know that before the annual White House barbecue today, the 500 guests are expected to show up at Fort McNair to stuff camp backpacks with goodies for the children of military personnel.

There's a certain irony in Ms. Johnston's comments--and Mrs. Obama's push for a wider role in policy-making. Not so many months ago, we were told that the First Lady had found her signature issue, serving as an advocate for the nation's military families. But apparently, that effort has lost its luster, despite the upcoming event at Fort McNair.

In fact, Michelle Obama's last "military event" was more than three months ago, during a highly-publicized visit to Fort Bragg. Fawning coverage from McClatchy (and other press services) suggested that Mrs. Obama was fulfilling her pledge--made during her husband's presidential run--to focus on the plight of military families.

Obama showed her appreciation for both soldiers and their families on Thursday during a visit to Fort Bragg and Fayetteville. The base is one of the largest in the world, and the city that abuts it recently was named the most military-friendly in the nation.

In making the trip, Obama is beginning to define her White House role. She has said the needs of military families will be one her top priorities.

"Military families bear a very heavy burden," Obama said. "They do it without complaint. But we as a nation need to find a way to lighten their load."

Apparently, the plight of our military families has greatly improved over the last few months (pardon our sarcasm), or Mrs. Obama is angling for "bigger" issues, as indicated by the Post report.

Truth be told, we're always a little suspicious of any politician--or politician's spouse--who suddenly "discovers" the military. It's worth remembering that Mrs. Obama's discussions with military families began at a rather opportune moment during last year's campaign--about the time her husband took a pass on visiting wounded warriors at an Army medical center in Germany.

Additionally, those forums had all the trappings of a campaign event. As the Military Times papers reported last August, participation in Michelle Obama's Norfolk meeting was limited to armed forces members, dependents and retirees who were campaign volunteers, or invited by the campaign. Not exactly a "cross-section" of the U.S. military.

Obviously, Mrs. Obama is free to create her own role in the White House, and pursue as many policy issues as she chooses. But it also seems clear that her interest in military family issues is on the wane. That won't go unnoticed by the very people she promised to help.


Ed Rasimus said...

Had difficulty retaining breakfast this morning after reading the WaPo piece. Gotta note as well in the three page article the imperative laid down the Ms Messiah that "she doesn't intend to work more than 2 and a half days a week and she intends to take the entire month of August off.

She'll need a break after a grueling 10 days of work on the "child nutrition reauthorization" program. Only in America do we need to reauthorize feeding children!

Why does this powerhouse Harvard educated lawyer and university professor/corporate board activist have to have a full time speech writer to feed her comments for 2.5 days a week?

This just gets worse each day. Tomorrow Pelosi passes carbon dioxide exhalation tax...

city said...

"she doesn't intend to work more than 2 and a half days a week and she intends to take the entire month of August off"

Sounds like our last POTUS.

Andrewdb said...

So she wants to be involved in policy making. Remind me what job she was elected to? Kind of like Hillery, how does one impeach a FLOTUS? Ribbon cuttings, etc. is exactly what that job is about.

Dave Rickey said...

Really? This is where you're going? Cheap shots about 'date night' and dredging up old talking points that weren't true when they were new?

Your injection of [Barack] to the first sentence is inaccurate (the article refers to Michelle Obama as simply "Obama" in several other places where it's clear they are referring to her and not her husband). Her approval ratings have soared, and are now higher than any First Lady since Jackie Kennedy (far higher than Laura Bush, even a bit higher than Nancy Reagan).

The "took a pass on visiting wounded warriors" was one of Rove's "Damned if you do, damned if you don't" forks, they (the McCain campaign) were ready to roll with alternative press releases dunning him for using wounded troops as campaign props if he did go. He actually visited hospitals in Iraq and Kuwait on the same trip without the press entourage and without using it for his campaign, but in Germany his time was too thoroughly accounted for to do it quietly.

Given the degree of vetting and even "loyalty oaths" that the GOP has been requiring for attendees at presidential campaign events for years, dinging Michelle for preaching to the choir is hardly fair.

And you still need to go back and look at the Presidential election results for military-dominated areas. Here's a hint: Newport News county, filled to the brim with Navy dependents, retirees, and contractors, went for Obama 64-35. Norfolk county was 71-28 for Obama. Bluer than California. We already went the rounds over Alaskan Air Force base precincts putting Begich over the top, it turns out military absentee ballots did the same for Franken (in spite of Coleman trying to get them disqualified).

You do a good job of military analysis here, and give a valid (if slanted towards hawkish) view on foreign policy. You need to either leave the domestic politics alone, or accept that the political views of officers and spooks are not anywhere near those of the rank and file, and that the Military Times poll was not only unscientific, but grossly misleading.

J.R. said...

I think you were more accurate when you said that she's "beginning to define her White House role" rather than when you characterized her activity as "on the wane" -- it's only been 200 days. Let's see what she can do for the troops who come back from Iraq and give her a few more days (months, years) to make her mark. She's got four (eight?) years, after all.

Since you're clearly also a supporter of the cause, why not pitch in on one of her programs and try to find grounds for common understanding? The troops don't magically become a less-capable fighting force by opening care packages that come from blue states, and they don't get infections from being visited in the hospital by people whose political views you disagree with.

Insulting and sneering at the honest efforts of someone simply because they have a (D) next to their name makes you look petty, and makes it appear that you're trying to score political points rather than genuinely advance the cause.