I was starting to get very concerned about Cindy McCain. Up until this past Tuesday afternoon, when she took a not-so-subtle shot at Michelle Obama, she has been what some have dubbed the political “Stepford Wife.” Think about it. Mrs. McCain walks quietly and adoringly behind her husband as he campaigns. She is blonde, blue-eyed, youthful, and perfectly coiffed. She smiles constantly while rarely uttering a word. She is the perfect political spouse.
So on Tuesday, I was glad to see that she had finally entered the contest for “Campaign 2008: Political Spouse from Hell” which Bill Clinton is winning by a wide margin, so far. It was actually refreshing to hear Mrs. McCain speak, and I hope we hear more from her in the future.
But let us turn to Michelle Obama, accomplished, Harvard-trained lawyer, Princeton graduate, Chicago hospital executive, wife of a U.S. Senator, mother and from all accounts, a genuine, grounded, solid person. Like me, she hails from humble, working class roots.
Michelle Obama’s comments about being proud of our country were crystal clear to me. I knew exactly what she meant. The campaign does her — and our nation– a disservice by trying to clean up her words. We make a grave a mistake when we hold up accomplished blacks like Barack and Michelle Obama as the measuring stick for racial progress. Don’t believe the hype. It is naïve and flat-out wrong for anyone to assume that because you are a black attorney, doctor, senator, engineer, or MBA, that life has been easy. Black professionals also have to deal with the very real and very onerous vestiges of racism that still exist.
As a black, female attorney, age 41, who was the first in my family to achieve such success, I understand – like many other Americans who heard her – that Michelle’s comments about being truly proud of her country for the first time reflected a two-fold truth:
1) That she was proud that her nation had shown itself willing to vote for a black man for president, with large numbers of whites supporting him.
2) That she was proud that people are energized about politics in a way that no-one has seen since the 1960s.
This is not complicated stuff. What we need to talk about in this country is notMichelle Obama’s comments, but rather how people soften and “filter” important elements of our political discourse when race and gender are at issue.