March
7th 2008
Simply perfect!

Posted under: American history, Gender, Intersectionality, race, women's history

Let’s pretend that there are two women who might potentially be the next First Lady of the United States.

Lady A is a graduate of Princeton and Harvard Law School, and until her husband started running for president, she had a successful career as a corporate lawyer and a hospital vice-president.  She has never had a drug problem, is her husband’s first wife, and to all appearances, looks pretty much perfect.  Lady B, the heir to a beer distributor fortune, took up with her husband (18 years her senior) when he was still married to his first wife.  (Oops!)    Lady B attended the University of Southern California and has a degree in teaching, and had a drug problem.  (Double oops!)  She used her inherited money to set her husband up in his political career.

One lady is profiled in a high-profile magazine whose reputation as either interesting or authoritative has, well, slipped in recent years, to put it charitably.  In this article, the author writes that her “lack of pretense has made her popular with the portion of the electorate.”  However, she also points to her “tendency toward deflation” and “dismissiveness” of other people and their efforts.  She quotes a local newspaper columnist who said he [heard] “rumbles a mink coat reportedly belonging to [this lady], wife of [this candidate], may have gone missing following [a local politician's] birthday bash.”  The author also notes that because in her job this lady made $121,910 four years ago then made $316,962 three years ago, a random letter-writer to a local newspaper complained that ”Mrs. X is extremely overpaid.”  In sum, the author writes, “Some observers have detected in [this lady] an air of entitlement.”  Which lady was it, Lady A or Lady B?  Answer here.

The other lady is profiled on a cable news program in a segment called “Can [this lady] really be that perfect?”  The lede of the summary on the web reads, “She’s always dressed in a killer suit and never has a hair out of place.”  A friend and former local official in her home state describes her as a “fun down to earth person with a great sense of humor.”  Which lady was it, Lady A or Lady B?  Answer here.

Your thoughts?

(p.s.  Here’s the full quote from the last part of the summary of the The New Yorker article linked above:  “Some observers have detected in Obama an air of entitlement. Her defenders attribute these charges of arrogance to racist fears about uppity black women. While it’s a stretch to call the suggestion that Obama projects an air of self-satisfaction bigoted, it may at least reflect a culture gap: last April, after Maureen Dowd wrote a column criticizing Obama for undermining her husband’s mystique, a blog riposte, circulated widely on the Internet, was titled ‘The White Lady Just Doesn’t Get It.’”  Does anyone understand how the last sentence describing a supposed “culture gap” refutes the earlier “charges of arrogance” due to “racist fears about uppity black women?”  How does refuting a dumb Dowd hit-piece make one “uppity?”  Why do successful African American women seem to make people totally insane when trying to write or talk about them?)

UPDATE, 3/7/08:  I should remember never to publish a post after 9 p.m., when it’s sleepytime for Historiann!  I think I understand better now what that writer was suggesting in that paragraph–not that I think she’s correct.  She’s still insane, but for different reasons than I thought.  The writer insists that it’s legitimate and not “bigoted” to say that Michelle Obama “projects an air of self-satisfaction,” but acknowledges that there may be a “culture gap” (although I think she really means, black people and white people seem to have different reads of this accusation.)  Well, how many Princeton and Harvard Law grads do you know who are very successful professionally and personally at the age of 44 and who don’t ”project an air of self-satisfaction.”  Why isn’t that allowed, as Susan points out in the comments below, if you earn your own money instead of inheriting it from a rich daddy?

15 Comments »

15 Responses to “Simply perfect!”

  1. Susan on 08 Mar 2008 at 7:55 am #

    Well, it’s simple, Historiann. It’s “down to earth” to train as a teacher when you inherit money, but “entitlement” to go to law school and earn it. And, oh, yes — it’s even more about entitlement when smart African American women get good jobs and earn what their counterparts earn. I wouldn’t go after Cindy McCain for the drug stuff — she’s human — but the rest? Yikes.

  2. Historiann on 08 Mar 2008 at 8:07 am #

    Susan–yes, exactly. Maybe I’m out to lunch, but I’m pretty sure that earning $112,000, as Obama did until 3 years ago, is on the very low end of what other Princeton/Harvard Law grad attorneys make, no? (Any attorneys out there who might comment?)

    As for the drug stuff: I guess I brought that up because it was a major topic in that “Cindy McCain is Perfect” article–which might seem to undercut the concept of perfection. Also, I didn’t mention that Laura Bush killed someone in high school, but let’s just imagine that either Hillary Clinton or Michelle Obama had either drug problems or blood on their hands…?

  3. Historiann on 08 Mar 2008 at 8:34 am #

    Sorry–I mis-typed the sum–should be $122,000, still pretty low for a resume like hers.

  4. GayProf on 08 Mar 2008 at 9:37 am #

    I really dislike any discussion about “First Ladies.” Why do we care? They aren’t elected and, it seems to me, debating about them is a relic from the sexist past (not to mention it keeps up the myth that a candidate’s personal life is critically important to their ability to be the nation’s chief executive). Besides, the current “First Lady” has demonstrated once and for all how irrelevant that position really is. A coffee mug could have filled in for Laura Bush and I doubt anybody would have notice the difference.

    Of course, I make an exception for Jacqueline Kennedy, who was just too fabulous for words. But that was also four decades ago.

  5. ej on 08 Mar 2008 at 10:50 am #

    I have to disagree, Gay Prof. As an avid coffee drinker these days, I’ve developed some very fond feelings for several of my coffee mugs-they truly have a positive impact on my outlook on life. I think I may have actually had a more positive impression of George W. (to the extent that that is possible) if he had, in fact, been standing next to one of them!

  6. Historiann on 08 Mar 2008 at 11:22 am #

    GayProf–I understand your resentment. But, an activist first lady in the mold of Hillary Clinton (or even Jackie Kennedy, if we consider her supervision of White House restoration and historic preservation) offers a great deal of unpaid labor to the presidential administration. Whatever you think of their work, they’re held up to a great deal of public scrutiny, and they are expected nowadays to have an agenda and a calendar official appearances. Yet, as I understand it, they’re paid nothing, although they do have a budget and a staff. I agree with you about Laura Bush–I think that’s a case where temperament and political expedience met happily to make her much less useful than a coffee mug!

    Michelle Obama will be a first lady in the mold of Hillary Clinton, I am sure–although it’s strange that the New Yorker article (among many of its other bizarre features) never once suggested that Hillary Clinton was a trailblazer of a predecessor for someone like M.O. (After all–they’re both attorneys whose incomes supported their families while their husbands were in public service.) I guess what struck me most about the article–and this may ratify your resentment GP–is that it suggests that the role and expectations of first ladies haven’t changed really at all, despite the fact that we’re now seeing generations of women who are very highly educated and accomplished apart from their husbands’ political careers. The article doesn’t question that at all–rather, the angle is “how is this uppity, bossy woman going to deal with the expectations we have of how first ladies should behave?”

    But, like I said, it’s been all downhill at that rag since the Tina Brown years…

  7. Rad Readr on 09 Mar 2008 at 9:04 am #

    Well, I am very disappointed that you left out by far the most controversial and interesting of the first uhm, “lady” candidates — have you given up the race? Is Wyoming more important than Ohio? Nebraska more important than Texas? South Carolina more important than California? Let’s look at it this way– a little drug problem can’t touch a thong problem. And Princeton/Harvard “entitlement” is not nearly as interesting as the return of Paula Jones. Could Bill be the first lady who has it out for the ladies? (that last line might get me into trouble) –as far as some of your other points, I agree completely, “entitlement” is not the right word.

  8. David Jones on 09 Mar 2008 at 9:18 am #

    Laura Bush has blood on her hands?

  9. Clio Bluestocking on 09 Mar 2008 at 9:26 am #

    How about “Lady” C? A former president of the United States?

  10. Historiann on 09 Mar 2008 at 12:48 pm #

    David, Yes–Laura Bush killed a fellow high school student as a teenager when she ran a stop sign.

    http://www.snopes.com/politics/bush/laura.asp

    Just imagine if Michelle Obama had done that, or Hillary Clinton, or Rosalind Carter. (But apparently, Cindy McCain and Laura Bush can do whatever they want so long as they remain sufficiently submissive–and IOKIYAR, y’know.)

    Rad and Clio–I haven’t given up on the notion that we might have a first Laddie instead of a First Lady. (But that’s another kettle of fish entirely!)

  11. ortho stice on 09 Mar 2008 at 1:01 pm #

    Historiann, I know what would have happened if a seventeen-year-old Michelle Obama, while driving through Texas, caused a car accident that killed a white man.

    Laura’s whiteness and class connections saved her from getting acquainted with Texas’ tough penal system.

  12. David on 09 Mar 2008 at 5:40 pm #

    I agree with a lot of what you are trying to say, but I think the pejorative emphasis is at times misplaced. To me, it says nothing negative about Cindy McCain that she was heir to a fortune, married a man who was eighteen years her senior (whom she met while he was still married) or that she used drugs. I gather nothing negative from any of that information. I also don’t think it reflects poorly on Laura Bush that she ran a stop sign as a high schooler and killed a friend. I don’t think that puts “blood on her hands,” at least in the pejorative way that phrase is usually used.

    Would others have been treated differently, given this information? Absolutely, and that’s the problem. The behavior itself is not the problem.

    To me, I already have every reason in the world to dislike Cindy McCain after she said she is “always proud of [her] country.” That’s far more offensive to me than shacking up with an older man who is separated from his wife.

  13. Historiann on 09 Mar 2008 at 7:06 pm #

    Well, the framing of the CNN story was “Can Cindy McCain really be this perfect?” I would argue that it’s all too human to do some of the things she’s done, but it hardly qualifies her for accusations of “perfection.” Especially since her party has been on its high horse about 1) “family values,” and 2) locking up people for minor drug offenses.

    I thought that story was quite interesting juxtaposed with Michelle Obama’s flawless record of academic and professional achievement, and yet somehow she gets accused of being too big for her britches.

    But, according to the rules of our culture, nothing you do if you’re a rich, white girl will ever sully your assumed “perfection,” (unless perhaps you’re *too ambitious*), and nothing you do as a black Princeton and Harvard Law grad will remove the suspicion that you’re an entitled-seeming outsider.

  14. Rad readr on 11 Mar 2008 at 11:12 pm #

    But aren’t we being postethnic now? Wasn’t the Obama campaign mad today that Ferraro invoked race? I love it. He is both postethnic, and thus appeals to certain voters, but he is also black, and thus pulls 91 percent among black voters in mississippi. Is Michelle postethnic too?

  15. Limp “satire” begets more limpness : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present on 24 Jul 2008 at 9:22 am #

    [...] it was pushed by Republicans, not Democrats.  And, please–who would you rather be:  Michelle O. or Cindy M.?)  Or it proves that people will say absolutely anything about Democratic candidates for the [...]

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