America’s first ladies get a bad rap. No matter what they do - whether beautifying the White House, deciding what to wear, or where to travel - criticisms have flown.
It wasn’t until 1869 and Ulysses S. Grant’s spouse, Julia that presidents’ wives even wanted the job. Margaret Taylor, in 1844, actually prayed for her husband’s opponent to win the election, and Jane Pierce, in 1853, fainted when hers did. Several wives refused to move to the nation’s capital and others stayed upstairs in the White House’s private chambers for most of their husband’s term.
First Lady Michelle Obama will no doubt take some flak for appearing on the cover of Vogue magazine’s April edition this month. Even though she’s graced the covers of many magazines and attended events wearing a variety of styles from American to Asian designers, you can bet the fashionistas will have something negative to say about her choice of attire.
Last month, she was criticized for her surprise appearance via satellite at the Academy Awards. People said it was pretentious to mix Hollywood with politics, and accused her of wanting to be a star. Earlier in the winter, she weathered criticism for decorating the White House with 54 Christmas trees and later, spending the holidays with her family in Hawaii.
It’s clear to me that the First Lady Michelle Obama took the opportunity to present the Oscar for Best Picture because of the chance the film, “Lincoln” would win, not “Argo.” In his inaugural address, her husband connected our current civil rights debates concerning homosexuals, women and immigrants with Abraham Lincoln’s commitment to equality and courageous determination to end African slavery. It would have been a shame to allow another historical reference to Lincoln pass by.
I imagine Michelle must have felt akin to Elizabeth Monroe who, in the 1820s, decorated the White House with expensive French furnishings and pushed European court etiquette upon Virginia society. Neither went over well. Or, perhaps the First Lady identified with Nancy Reagan when she filled the butler’s cabinets with (aghast!) new china. Both Jacqueline Kennedy-Onassis and Reagan oversaw extensive renovations of the White house and wore, of course, haute couture.
All this talk about the Obamas’ lifestyle and personal spending is the conservative rights’ attempt to divert our attention from their inability to compromise on fiscal decisions that affect everyone. To me, this is like the town supervisor bewailing the high cost of a snow plow or tax assessor before investigating whether the town next door might (for gracious sakes no!) share theirs.
I think the first lady deserves some fun and attention. With the contentious campaign trail behind her and her husband safely ensconced in his last term, what does she have to lose? Besides, we all know black women have been fourth class citizens in all matters of race, gender and class throughout U.S. history - even backing their brethren’s right to vote back in 1870 with no regard to their own. It would be another 50 years before the law included them.
It’s high time we as a nation celebrate the nation’s first black first lady. Let her shine on center stage and be a cover girl whenever she wants to.