Standing Tall

What Michelle Means

\Anyone interested in making the acquaintance of the real Michelle Obama has done so by now. They’ve heard her story and (literally) seen where she’s coming from on the big screen behind her at the Democratic convention. Yet even after her from-the-heart convention speech about home, family, and why she loves America, some critics continue to talk about her as if she were Angela Davis in a sheath. It was, according to Fox News, “a very liberal speech.” “The heroes of Michelle Obama’s world are people who march.” Which is especially galling, given that what her heroes really taught her was to march to work every day.

Politics aside, I never met a potential first lady I did not want to hug or offer some homebaked good. In this unpaid and often unwanted role, women must be strong but not overpowering, smart but determinedly oblivious, honest as long as they reveal nothing real. Extra points go to those who are open to one or two minor suggestions about their hair.

Yet in most cases, there is at least something the candidate’s wife can do about the particular way in which she’s being pilloried. Hillary got blonder, blander, and was never again sarcastic about cookie-baking. But the chief knock on Michelle Obama—that she’s an aggrieved “anti’’ who loves victimhood almost as much as she hates America—is completely at odds with her whole life story.

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About the Author

Melinda Henneberger, a Commonweal columnist, is the former editor-in-chief of