Barack and Michelle Obama appeared on today’s Good Morning America, where they were asked about an ad the Tennessee GOP has created in response to a “controversial” comment Michelle made back in February in Madison, WI.
“For the first time in my adult like,” she said, “I’m proud of my country.”
And the hyper-patriotic crowd went wild. Tennessee’s web campaign ad pointedly asked several Nashville residents to name instances when or reasons why they’re proud of their country, while frequently cutting back to the Michelle soundbyte.
During their GMA appearance, Barack admonished the Tennessee GOP for the ad and called their approach low-class. He also stated and reiterated that they should, “Lay off his wife.”
Though the gesture (and the interview overall) came across as good-natured and even-keeled, we can’t help but wonder about the dispute itself.
Shouldn’t a candidate’s spouse, who stumps just as vigorously as the candidate him- or herself, be fair game for analysts, media, and the public to constructively criticize for any of their public comments?
It’s not like Michelle made this comment at a restaurant, then the server overheard and sold the story to the AP wire. She said this at a podium during a speech in support of her husband’s campaign. Clearly, a comment like that would result in a record-scratch for the millions of uber-patriots living here. Clearly, that record-scratch would result in some equally public opposition, regardless of an after-the-fact restatement.
We think it’s pretty customary for vocal candidates’ spouses to come under some form of public scrutiny. And it’s also fair for voters to take anything they wish into account in selecting a future leader. No matter how irrational people’s criteria for picking presidents has been, it’s still their right to make as informed or misinformed a choice as they wish. That said, lots of voters turn critical eyes to candidate’s families. Some care about the spouse’s infidelity and make value judgments about the strength of the candidate based on that. Others look to the candidate’s wild child children and consider him or her a bad parent based on the kinds of adults those children eventually become. Others think a candidate is a viable choice because he plays saxophone or appears on The Tonight Show.
The point is: you can’t control who says what about your family when you’re running for office. And it’s a little unrealistic to expect your opposition to leave them out of it. The only way that has any chance of happening is not to bring the family into it in the first place. But every candidate relies on an intelligent, compassionate, maybe even stylish or hip spouse and, if he or she is a parent, savvy, grounded, impressively accomplished children to help sell their public image.
If you want them to wave and smile, make speeches in your absence, make appearances in news and popular media, and walk the straight and narrow to make you look better, then you have to deal with the near-constant analysis and nitpicking that goes along with that.
How should Barack have handled the GOP YouTube ad? Differently. It’s sweet to want to protect your wife, but it’s misguided to think you can exempt her from ridicule or scrutiny–especially when countless Americans are watching (and judging) her sit right next to you on Good Morning America.