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March 17, 2009

New York Magazine's wretched Michelle Obama profile

The latest issue of New York Magazine features a number of short profiles of Michelle Obama written by people who seem to know absolutely nothing about her.

One of the worst offenders is David Samuels, who argues that Michelle Obama "normalizes" Barack Obama by being appropriately undistinguished:

Michelle will always remain the queen of a precious square block of middle-class black Chicago where her parents loved her and her brother was a basketball star.

There are clear limits to Michelle’s ambition. She went to excellent schools, got decent grades, stayed away from too much intellectual heavy lifting, and held a series of practical, modestly salaried jobs while accommodating her husband’s wilder dreams and raising two lovely daughters. In this, she is a more practical role model for young women than Hillary Clinton, blending her calculations about family and career with an expectation of normal personal happiness. Now her mother is coming to live in the White House.

This isn't just sexist and condescending, it's factually incorrect. Michelle Obama's roots are working class, not middle class. Her father, Fraser Robinson, maintained filters and boilers for the city of Chicago. 

As Rebecca Traister notes at Salon, Michelle Obama's most recent "modest salary" was $273,618. Until she quit that job to focus on her husband's election campaign, Michelle Obama was a vice president at the University of Chicago Medical Center.


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You note two factual errors (implying Michelle Obama had a middle-class childhood when she was poor, implying that she didn't go on to make a big salary).

And yet, the David Samuels' article gets worse from there with this stange sentence:

"F. Scott Fitzgerald would have loved the Obamas, though one suspects that he would have edged Michelle into crazy territory or made her into a black Jordan Baker type, mysterious and cool with a borderline lesbian vibe."

Michelle Obama was a vice president at the University of Chicago Medical Center.
Don't forget how important and irreplaceable Mrs. "first time in my adult lifetime, I’m really proud of my country" was

Michelle Obama's $300,000 "Job" at a Hospital Obama Got Earmarks for So Scary-Important It's Eliminated As She Departs, With No Replacement Sought

Paul L:Go away troll

Michelle Obama wasn't poor, she was working class. Her father was a blue collar worker and her mother was a homemaker.

Mrs. Obama is a highly accomplished person in her own right. She attended Princeton and Harvard Law School before joining the prestigious Chicago firm of Sidley and Austin, where she served as Barack Obama's mentor.

I'd say it's also factually inaccurate to say that Michelle Obama avoided any intellectual heavy lifting. At S&A, she practiced IP law for the likes of AT&T and Union Carbide.

She later took a relatively senior position at Chicago City Hall and worked in the non-profit sector before taking a vice president's job at the University of Chicago.

I think people tend to forget that there even is such a thing as the working class. Just a few rich people at the top, a few destitute people at the bottom, and everyone else is middle class.

So you jerks are mad because they didn't laud her 300k a year no show job as some major accomplishment? Obsessed with money much?? Anyone with an above room temp IQ sees this disgusting woman as the classless race baiter she is. (Just ask Gordon Brown's kids about this cheapskate!) She walks like a linebacker and her facial features are, let's say, bizarre and leave it at that. All hail the sleeveless one. Disgusting elitist jackasses.

Par4: DO you have anything to rebut what Paul said - or are you too hateful to reply to someone who disagrees with you?

I will never understand the interest in " first ladies "

Who gives a rat's anus about Michelle Obama or any of her predecessors?

When there is a woman president we'll have the same kind of nonsense about a " first man "

No, no, no

I'm pretty sure that if things had turned differently in 2008, the profile of the first man would not be that fluffy.

At S&A, she practiced IP law for the likes of AT&T and Union Carbide.

Which was heavy lifting in certain kinds of reasoning skills, even if they made simple demands, because both clients require various ethical gymnastics to be executed by anyone who represents them. As in, you can keep in pretty good shape wrestling with your conscience, if you're a bright person helping ATT with their IP issues. They have law firms like SA on retainer to make sure that nothing they do is technically illegal, but when in doubt they will happily send their attorneys down to Springfield or DC to explain why the law should be edited. (Don't ask how I know.)

More to the point, when did making the long journey from a 2 bedroom walkup on the South Side to earning six figures at Sidley Austin become so typical that it deserves to be denigrated as 'having normal expectations for one's [female] life'?

Finally, what train do I catch from JFK to go to David's office and give him a wedgie?

Well said, PR.

Oh, and Justin: 13 derogations, in one comment, exceeds your catch limit for the day.

Have you thought at all about why you're the First Lady?

I never am ready for the lies. I am continually surprised by the levels and weight of misrepresentation in spite of all the exposure folks like you, Lindsay, provide. The "news" lays like so much baloney spilled on the sidewalks in August...why would I consume any of it?

classless race baiter

So, Mr. Hegrow, would it be race baiting If I were to guess that you're a bitter white guy?

You suppose she was really "discomfited by her husband’s radical self-invention and his desire to stand out from the crowd" or maybe by the fact that she was both the primary wage earner for her family and the primary caregiver for her children while her husband was in the state capital pursuing politics?

Or, you know, maybe just that after two ivy league degrees and a successful professional career (she was her husband's supervisor at her white shoe law firm when they met) her husband's political career has made her a target for random embittered internet losers who don't like her face.

Julia nails it.

I'm 51 y.o. white male and I remember in High School studying the ongoing Watergate Scandal (poli-sci teacher used newspapers for our 'text'). I used to be a registered Republican, then I had a child and now I am registered as a Democrat.

Honestly, I have never been as proud of a President and First Lady's appearance as I am now.

Yeah I've grown to like michelle ... samuels writes like a HATER. Thanks for exposing that, lindsay. We DID need a first lady. It's BEEN SO DAMNED LONG !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

yes, well said phoenix rising. give him nuggies, too.

Let me get this straight: Michelle Obama is the perfection of every single possible human and feminine characteristic, so much so that well-meaning people who write 400 word pieces about what they LIKE about Michelle Obama are classified as haters. Please grow up, or else you will be unable to fulfill your responsibilities as citizens of a democracy, because you will be too busy mooning over cartoon characters. That's no way for grown-ups to behave.

Michelle Obama is a bright, attractive, accomplished woman, who IN HER OWN WORDS, decided to put her kids first, and support her husband, and find a balance in her life that would allow her to be happy. She is not Angela Merkel, or Hillary Clinton. My sources for her being discomfited by the alien parts of Barack Obama's character and his tendency towards protean self-invention are Barack Obama's own books. Working for three years in a law firm before quitting doesn't qualify as intellectual heavy lifting -- that's just average white collar work. There's nothing very intellectual about it, aside from the fact that you have to know how to read long, boring legal documents. Redesigning the health care system, or writing a really good book, are examples of intellectual heavy lifting.

But so what? Why can't you people accept our wonderful first lady for the smart, accomplished woman that she obviously is - a woman who chose a balanced life, instead of becoming a one-dimensional career-driven maniac? Why do you have to make her into a 1980s-style superwoman when she is a devoted mom with a 9 to 5 job that she worked to raise her family and so her husband could take some weirder risks that paid off big for everyone. Why does Michelle have to play every part in the band herself? Are women really this insecure? What makes Michelle so attractive is that she avoided that trap that most of you seem caught in.

I do feel bad that you were taken in by Rebecca Traister and Katha Pollitt's silly little game of cherry-picking one salary number to prove that Michelle Obama was actually a very highly paid corporate lawyer throughout her entire career and fuel their Norman-Mailer-at-Town-Hall-era outrage. On with the gender wars! The 273,000 number is Michelle Obama's income from the job she got AFTER her husband was elected to the Senate - for a lobbying job from the University of Chicago Hospital system. A nice kicker, to be sure. But Michelle Obama's income when her kids were born was in the mid-five-figures, which as I point out in my 400-word-long appreciation is not exactly the top of the pay scale for graduates of Harvard Law School. More like the bottom 20%.

Look, I like Michelle Obama. But she does spend most of her time talking about how the most important thing in her life is her kids and how she likes to bake cookies. What's wrong with having a bright, educated, attractive woman in the White House who works at respectable professional jobs and cares about other people, and has plenty of interesting stuff to say, but doesn't want to be the President?

She spends most of her time saying she wants to bake cookies and take care of her kids bc that's what she has to be to in any measure appease the haters. Remember what they did to Hillary Clinton? MO has totally sublimated the career side of her life and her intellectual power to the higher cause of her husband's career. It is one of the unmentioned tragedies of the whole election story, imo. Tragic, but given the state of our culture, unfortunately necessary if we were to have her husband in the highest office. The racist, sexist, troglodytes who spew filthy insults against her don't deserve to kiss the ground she walks on.

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