How Fashion Saved President Obama

This Fashion Week, let's not take for granted the political power of the industry.

Getty Images
Getty Images

(The Root) — If you were to ask just about anyone in Washington to name the most important event taking place in America this week, he or she would likely say the State of the Union — the president’s address, the GOP’s official response and all of the pundit chatter about it before and after.

But that person would be only partially correct.

For many in politics and government, the State of the Union serves as the perfect grand follow-up to the Super Bowl. The captains of America’s two major teams will battle it out on airwaves instead of AstroTurf, using words to try to score points against the opponent, all while trying to maintain the illusion of embodying great sportsmanship. Also, like the Super Bowl, there are the endless hours of armchair quarterbacking we can all look forward to this week. 

But just as there are those Americans who care absolutely nothing about football but care everything about the Super Bowl halftime show, there are plenty who probably can’t identify a single member of Congress and won’t be watching the State of the Union address or following the fallout from it closely, if at all. Instead they will be preoccupied with America’s other great show this week: New York Fashion Week.

There are those in politics who dismiss these types of people. Anyone who cares about fashion more than politics must be shallow, not substantive and not the kind of person who sways elections — except that these people have already swayed an election: the 2012 presidential election.

When it is all said and done and history looks back on what secured President Barack Obama a second term, the credit will belong to two people: Mitt Romney, who left much to be desired as a candidate, and Michelle Obama.

The president’s so-called likability played a key role in helping him survive a campaign in which he couldn’t entirely run on job performance (with a slow economic recovery making it tough). Michelle Obama put much of the “likable” in his “likability” the last four years, with favorability ratings routinely outshining his.

There have already been endless love letters written about Michelle Obama in the last year, including by some of us on this site, so there is no need for another. But not quite as much has been written about why — and when — Americans fell in love with her after being so reticent during her husband’s first presidential campaign.

It can be argued that it began when she spent much of her husband’s first term doing a hipper, cooler, younger version of the Laura Bush first lady model: lots of smiling, lots of gardening, lots of looking harmless and nonthreatening. But she also did something perhaps more important: She began dressing the part.