Monday, March 04, 2013

Same as it ever was

There has been much ridiculous criticism of Michelle Obama for appearing on this year's Oscar telecast. It wasn't "appropriate." "No other First Lady ..." It's all nonsense, of course. As First Lady, Nancy Reagan not only appeared on Diff'rent Strokes, she posed sitting upon Mr. T's lap and gave lengthy interviews to her friend, talk show host Merv Griffin. While President, her husband called a few innings of a Cub game at Wrigley Field alongside Harry Caray. As First Lady, Barbara Bush appeared with Big Bird on Sesame Street and she and her Presidential hubs attended the CMA awards. So this negative chatter about Michelle Obama is just partisan bullshit. No surprise there.

As always when the talk turns to First Ladies, my mind wanders back to my all-time idol, JBKO. She never appeared on an awards show but she does have the distinction of being the only First Lady to ever win an Emmy. It's on display at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum (where I swiped this photo). She won it for her televised Tour of the White House, highlighting her restoration of The People's House.

Jackie was like every other First Lady in that, during her time, she was slagged relentlessly in the press. She was so popular internationally that The State Department took her televised tour and added subtitles so they could honor requests for it from all over the world -- including the Soviet Union. But here at home, The Jackie Show, as it was condescendingly called, received a ton of criticism. She was "stiff" and "phony." Her breathy voice was parodied in a top-selling, award-winning comedy album called The First Family.

First Lady is a thankless job. It has no job description and no official responsibilities and yet somehow, no matter how each woman performs it, she's doing it "wrong."

Jackie was so self-contained that it's always been easy to assume she was immune to the criticism. But she wasn't, because she loved her husband. As she said in her own words, she worried about being a political liability because of all the people who "didn't like your hair, that you spoke French, that you just didn't adore campaigning or didn’t bake bread with flour up your arms." I bet every woman who was ever mistress of The People's House loved her husband, and felt that same anxiety. 

And that's probably part of why no First Lady has ever looked into a camera or a reporter's face and said, "Screw you all!"