A class act

Something happened last week that was political, gratuitous and embarrassing for our country — and it actually can’t be blamed on the sequester. 

Out of nowhere, the first lady of the United States appeared at the Academy Awards and announced the winner for Best Picture. Not landing by helicopter, not inside an egg like Lady Gaga, but via satellite from the White House, where she was hosting the nation’s governors for dinner, surrounded by smiling military personnel.

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Immediately, the appearance — not her idea, but an invitation — became a national subject of scorn. Most of the first lady’s detractors were conservatives, like Michelle Malkin, who slammed “the White House-Hollywood industrial complex.” Jennifer Rubin of The Washington Post blogged: “It is not enough that President Obama pops up at every sporting event in the nation. Now the first lady feels entitled, with military personnel as props, to intrude on other forms of entertaining (this time for the benefit of the Hollywood glitterati who so lavishly paid for her husband’s election) ... it makes both the president and the first lady seem small and grasping.”

But other critics were liberals. Donny Deutsch of MSNBC, an “elite” of the first order, sniffed, “there was an elitist flavor to it.” The Post’s Courtland Milloy wrote he had “enough with the broccoli and Brussels sprouts” and all the attention paid to Obama’s toned arms and hair. “Where is that intellectually gifted Princeton graduate, the Harvard educated lawyer and mentor to the man who would become the first African-American president of the United States?” he asked.

These deeply disappointed Americans don’t exactly know what they want from the first lady — just that it isn’t what she is offering. And that’s why it’s so sad. No, Michelle Obama is not going to throw her Ivy League credentials around, or weigh in on war or peace. But she has led an awareness movement to tackle the epidemic of obesity and diseases associated with it, and she helped build a support net for military families and veterans returning from war, the likes of which they never had before.

Those who cannot understand the importance of Obama helping communities most affected by poor eating and poor health engage to improve their choices and habits must not appreciate not only the prevalence of obesity and diabetes, particularly among African-Americans, but the economic toll diabetes and other weight-related illnesses are taking on our healthcare system. Obama has not only worked on federal legislation requiring new standards for school lunches but is urging corporations to open new stores in the 6,000 “food deserts” the Department of Agriculture has identified across the country, areas where fresh food is not readily available. 

Meanwhile, she has quietly invested thousands of hours — without any camera crews in tow — supporting military families along with Jill Biden, the wife of the vice president. Together they founded Joining Forces to encourage businesses to hire veterans returning from wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Veterans groups have said Obama has hosted and participated in more events for veterans and military families than any other first lady. 

Let’s hope our next first lady is an exemplary wife and mother, and a daughter who would move her mother in to the White House with her. Let’s hope she embraces strangers and hugs them tightly, just the first lady we have now. 

We can all freak out if Obama appears on “Wife Swap.” But unless she does, please stand down. 

Americans taking swipes at the first lady, asking why she is having a good time — when invited — with comedians and producers planning the Oscar ceremony, should instead think about saying “thank you.”


Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.