January 5 2017
Last month, Michelle Obama sat down with Oprah Winfrey for what many assumed would be one of those feel-good, lighthearted interviews. Past first ladies have provided similar end-of-term interviews, in which they tend to display both astonishment and relief that it’s all over, coupled with the proper magnanimity and graciousness toward the next family to reside in the White House. Yet, this time was different. Far from feel-good, Mrs. Obama seemed more like a frustrated mother lamenting the rebelliousness of her growing child.
The biggest headline maker in the interview was her response to Oprah’s question about whether she felt that the administration had achieved its goal of “hope and change.” Mrs. Obama responded, “Yes, I do, because we feel the difference now. . . . Now we’re feeling what not having hope feels like.” Critics rebuked the first lady for suggesting, in narcissistic fashion, that the people feel hope only when the Obamas reside in the White House.
But Mrs. Obama’s next statement was equally revealing. She said: Our children respond to crises the way they see us respond. You know, it’s like the toddler that bumps his head on the table, and they look up at you to figure out whether it hurts, and if you’re, like, “Oh, my God,” they’re crying. But if you’re, like, “You know what, Babe, it’s okay, it’s okay.” And I feel that way about the nation. I feel that Barack has been that for the nation. . . . Having a grown-up in the White House who can say to you in times of crisis and turmoil, “Hey, it’s going to be okay.”
This quote betrays the disturbing way in which Mrs. Obama seems to view the American public — as children in need of constant minding and confidence-building. And yet it’s also notable because she and her liberal allies have taken the opposite tack with this election: Rather than reassuring the American public that the country will indeed be okay under a Trump presidency, they look panicked and despairing. Of course, the overheated nature of their reaction is only riling up the toddler in this scenario: Obama’s liberal followers.
And note that Michelle Obama seems not to grasp that not all Americans share her feelings. Some are indeed feeling hopeless, particularly those who supported Hillary Clinton. But others — such as the millions who supported the incoming president — are feeling more hopeful. Some are even ebullient. In fact, it was precisely that desire to rekindle hope, and the feeling of hopelessness that they had throughout the past eight years, that propelled many to vote for Donald Trump.
Like many parents who are suddenly shocked at their child’s teenage rebellion, Michelle Obama appears surprised to learn that her kids (the American public) have interests and ideas very different from her own. For instance, some of her “kids” genuinely disliked being told how to eat and live. Some bristled at having their choices limited and being forcefully nudged to eat this way or that. Many balked when government bureaucrats told them how to parent their own kids; they slammed the door on all the unsolicited advice about their personal choices. In fact, most Americans don’t like the federal government treating them like children at all.
It will certainly be difficult for the first lady to watch as the Republican Congress — if it does as promised — rolls back many of the programs and policies she helped push through, such as school-lunch reforms and onerous restaurant-menu labeling. Yet that’s the curse of Washington’s swinging pendulum and the fickle nature of the American voter. If indeed Michelle Obama sees herself as a mother figure, she should remember that parenting is as much about setting a good example as it is about instructing children. She has an opportunity to set yet another good example for the American public — as she’s done as an accomplished woman and an involved mother, and in serving as a loyal and strong partner to her powerful husband.
Let’s hope she is able to set aside her own feeling and confusion about this election, let go of those troublesome kids she doesn’t seem to understand anymore, and show the incoming first family the kindness and respect they deserve.