Michelle Obama's claim she's being branded an 'angry black woman' underlines White House desperation
Oh dear. A female New York Times journalist who is very well-disposed towards the Obama family writes a book about the First Couple, their marriage and the White House that portrays the President and his inner circle as dysfunctional.
What does the Obama administration do? Frantically trying to blunt the coverage about the book, including revelationS of f-bombs from Robert Gibbs, then Press Secretary, and lavish parties during a recession, it puts Michelle Obama on television to state this:
"You know, I guess it's more interesting to imagine this conflicted situation here and a strong woman and a, you know, but that's been an image that people have tried to paint of me since, you know, the day Barack announced, that I'm some angry black woman."I'm sorry but it simply won't wash. It's an attempt to change the subject. It's a way to say that any criticism of the Obamas - or even any truthful warts-and-all portrayal - is racist and therefore unacceptable. And people will see through it.
There are parallels with Hillary Clinton's claim as the Monica Lewinsky scandal was unfolding that there was a "vast Right-wing conspiracy" to get her husband. Certainly, Bill Clinton had determined antagonists on the Right but the reaction of most ordinary Americans to Hillary's conspiracy claim was: "Yes, but your husband was having sex with an intern."
You can watch the CBS interview with Michelle Obama here. It's worth watching the whole thing because it's a train wreck right from the moment at the outset where the First Lady claims she hasn't read the book (she's on television to rebut things in a book - of course she's read all the relevant excerpts).
She then states she's "never had a cross word" with Rahm Emanuel. The now Mayor of Chicago is one of the most combative men on the planet. If she's never had a cross word with him, she's almost unique in Washington and Chicago.
If anything, Michelle Obama's evocation of a racist conspiracy is even less plausible than Hillary's claim.
I listened on NPR yesterday to an interview with Jodi Kantor about her book. You couldn't imagine a person less likely to initiate a racial attack on Michelle Obama. Almost everything she said was positive and complimentary about the Obamas. She even talked about how unfair the "angry black woman" label was.
The book, however, is dynamite. It portrays Obama's inner circle as riven by dissent and jealousy. Gibbs is quoted as saying that Valerie Jarrett, a long-time Obama friend who is so close to the couple that she holidays with them, was a liar and not someone he subsequently took "at all seriously as an adviser to the President of the United States".
And although Kantor clearly admires Michelle Obama there is much fodder for critics and many passages that will raise eyebrows. The First Lady is portrayed as often unhappy and sullen and on occasions fiercely critical of her husband and his aides, who are fearful and unwilling to confront her.
Obama is quoted as being reluctant even to run for president ("I don't need this. I don't need anything.") and as looking forward to his post-presidency. During a debate preparation session, she told her husband: "Barack, feel - don't think!"
There a part which describes Obama's delight at being in Norway, suggesting he found Scandinavians much more appealing than Americans. The trip to pick up his Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 "passed like a brief, happy fantasy for the President, a Nordic alternate reality where citizens were learned and pensive, discussions were thoughtful, and everyone was a fan".
And at times she comes across as peevish and hard to please:
"The First Lady's complaints about the president's team in the White House tended to sound a lot like Michelle's personal complaints about her husband over the years. Not planning, not keeping her informed, focusing on his own needs, taking on risky projects without seeing their potential for failure - they were all charges she had leveled against him since the beginning of their union".These are certainly things the White House might not wish to see in print but overall the book is complimentary rather than derogatory.
To seek to trash a book that is anything other than pure hagiography has become standard White House practice. But it is also foolish and counter-productive because it only draws more attention to the things they don't like. Playing the race card will backfire.