Do you think it’s possible for any first lady not to be Yoko Ono-ified by the West Wing aides? Their interests are inherently at odds: They’re looking after a presidency; she’s looking after a person. And unless a first lady is content to be a tool in their political toolbox, ready to be deployed whenever it seems like a little image softening would be good in Des Moines, she is going to piss them off. And unless those operatives are willing to include the first lady in the broadest of strategy sessions, she is going to feel isolated and rudderless.
This tension should surprise no one, least of all anyone at the White House, from which denials of any such tension have issued forth. I am sympathetic to both sides, but am totally relating to Michelle’s POV as it is expressed in Kantor’s book. I understand the West Wing doesn’t want a first lady all up in its business, but Michelle isn’t that first lady. She doesn’t want to be involved in policy. She just wants to have a clue what the overarching program is, so that she is not out doing dorky events without a sense of a clear mission. Being outside the overall strategy dialogue would kill me if I were forced to take part in it, which she is. That Rahm Emanuel found her reluctance to be deployed by him “maddening” is maddening. Who would want to go on a bunch of one-off political missions unless she understood what it was meant to be working toward, how it was feeding into the overall strategic plan?
The most hilarious, anachronistic event in the book is the annual Congressional Club luncheon where Washington spouses torture the first lady in the guise of honoring her. This is a seemingly pointless affair for which the ladies demanded that Michelle pose for photos with their corporate donors, walk along a “runway” on the arm of a military escort and remain holed up at with them for four full hours. Michelle, like any sane person, tried to get out of it. When she couldn’t, she managed to extract a day of volunteer service from everyone attending in return.
As someone who does not get all up in policy business, I’ve likely oversimplified this, but what do you think?
With love from your own personal spouse.