Michelle Obama and My Feminist Nightmare

Apparently I infuriated some by calling the first lady a “feminist nightmare”—only I didn’t.


Those who know me well know that despite the fact that I make most of my living writing about politics, I almost never watch political talk shows, including those on which I sometimes appear. I almost never read comments on pieces that I write or pieces in which I’m mentioned, unless my mother specifically says I absolutely have to.

This is not to say my happy and peaceful life is devoid of constructive criticism, because I always read letters people take the time to send me via my website. I believe any person who takes the time to reach out on a personal level, and sign their full name to a coherent argument that does not involve name-calling, deserves to be taken seriously. I do not feel that way about a lot of the criticism cluttering cyberspace and our political discourse in general—and was reminded of why just before Thanksgiving.

I was recently informed by peers, family members and friends that I had really offended fans of first lady Michelle Obama. Apparently, I had referred to her as a “feminist nightmare.” This was news to me since, well, I hadn’t and never have.

I had, however, been interviewed for an article for Politico magazine on the first lady weeks ago. I was not told the article would be called “Leaning Out: How Michelle Obama Became a Feminist Nightmare.” (I found out later the writer of the article was just as shocked as the rest of us that her editors went with such an incendiary title.) I was told the article was about the first lady and feminism. I consider myself a feminist and had recently written a column urging the first lady to fly her own feminist flag more proudly, so I was happy to participate.

I reiterated in the interview the same criticisms and concerns I had in my column. We have one of the most accomplished, admired—and I do believe I used the term “badass” during the interview (sorry, Mom)—women in history in the White House. I had written previous columns arguing that she is smarter than her husband (still believe it) and would make a better president (sorry, Mr. President). For that reason I have been incredibly frustrated that she has essentially been relegated to a better-dressed impersonation of Laura Bush.

Don’t get me wrong, Bush was a fine first lady. Not extraordinary, but inoffensive and harmless. Just like Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush and most other first ladies before her.

Michelle Obama is not most other first ladies.

Did I mention the Harvard Law degree? The fact that she was her family’s breadwinner before her husband’s political career finally took off?

I stand by my quote in Politico that “She is one of the most influential black women on the planet, and I consider it a national shame that she’s not putting the weight of her office behind some of these issues.”