The Obamas

I Feel Bad About Michelle Obama’s Unworn Sweatpants
New books dissected over email.
Jan. 17 2012 4:11 PM

The Obamas


I feel bad about Michelle Obama’s unworn sweatpants.

US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.
It's not all fun times, living in the White House

Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images.

Dear Deborah,

Jacob  Weisberg Jacob Weisberg

Jacob Weisberg is chairman and editor-in-chief of The Slate Group and author of The Bush Tragedy. Follow him on Twitter.

I thoroughly agree. This book left me feeling sorry for the Obamas and by extension anyone who has to live in the White House. Just imagine not being able to go for a walk when you felt like it. It wouldn't matter how big that house was, or how much staff you had—you'd be a prisoner. You never have enough privacy, even in the family quarters, because of all the security. You can't wander around freely because of the tour groups. You can't make a sandwich or refold your sweaters without encroaching on the job of a Filipino steward. Despite some nice perks—planes, valets, a bowling alley in the basement—it sounds so oppressive! It makes you realize how smart Michelle's mother has been to shun publicity. As a result, Mrs. Robinson can wander out to shop on Connecticut Avenue without being recognized, usually. 

Even more confining than the security would be the scrutiny. Every decision the Obamas make, like where to go on vacation, or what to do for a date, or whom to invite to their Halloween party, is fodder for people to yak about on cable news. If we decide to go to a dinner and a play, we don't have to decide whether it's worth blocking traffic in midtown, or being slammed for our elitism in the New York Post the next morning. We just have to get a babysitter. We can go to our kids' soccer games and school concerts without wrecking them for everybody else. They can't.


This sense of confinement must be the worst for the first lady, who really cannot win. If she takes an interest in her husband's work, she courts your Yoko Ono scenario. If she steers completely clear, she'll be dismissed as insubstantial. Just to get dressed in the morning, Michelle has to think not just, Does this look good with that?, but What will people say this means? Her clothes can't be too expensive or too pedestrian, too sexy or too matronly. And it's not just what she wears that gets analyzed to within an inch of its life. Everything a first lady says and does, every decision about child-rearing, socializing, or entertaining has the potential to become a defining symbol, negative or positive.

It's enough to make you want to stay home in your sweatpants. But the spouse of the president can't do that, either. She is expected to embody good taste—to be a paragon of style, though of course without spending money or breaking with any historical traditions. This comes up when the new occupants try to update and personalize the White House—a history you know a lot more about than I do. Quite understandably, the Obamas wanted to make their new home theirs. But what a political minefield! It's no wonder they ended up doing the Oval Office in taupe.

Glad to live here and not there,




The World’s Politest Protesters

The Occupy Central demonstrators are courteous. That’s actually what makes them so dangerous.

The Religious Right Is Not Happy With Republicans  

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:58 PM The Religious Right Is Not Happy With Republicans  

The Feds Have Declared War on Encryption—and the New Privacy Measures From Apple and Google

You Might Not Be Crazy if You Think You Can Hear the Earth Humming

These “Dark” Lego Masterpieces Are Delightful and Evocative


Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.


Talking White

Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

Activists Are Trying to Save an Iranian Woman Sentenced to Death for Killing Her Alleged Rapist

Piper Kerman on Why She Dressed Like a Hitchcock Heroine for Her Prison Sentencing

  News & Politics
Oct. 1 2014 7:26 PM Talking White Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.
Oct. 1 2014 2:16 PM Wall Street Tackles Chat Services, Shies Away From Diversity Issues 
Oct. 1 2014 6:02 PM Facebook Relaxes Its “Real Name” Policy; Drag Queens Celebrate
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 5:11 PM Celebrity Feminist Identification Has Reached Peak Meaninglessness
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 9:39 PM Tom Cruise Dies Over and Over Again in This Edge of Tomorrow Supercut
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 6:59 PM EU’s Next Digital Commissioner Thinks Keeping Nude Celeb Photos in the Cloud Is “Stupid”
  Health & Science
Oct. 1 2014 4:03 PM Does the Earth Really Have a “Hum”? Yes, but probably not the one you’re thinking.
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?