BREAKING: Barack Obama & Michelle Obama Are Not One Person | This Week in Blackness

BREAKING: Barack Obama & Michelle Obama Are Not One Person

10 3

By now, a lot of ink has been spilled and a whole lot of megabytes have been generated over this:

First Lady Michelle Obama confronted a protester Tuesday night after the gay rights activist interrupted her remarks at a private fundraiser.

Mrs. Obama was speaking to a crowd of about 200 people about protecting children from gun violence, when a woman at the front of the group began calling for broader federal protections for gay and lesbians in the workplace.

The gay rights group GetEQUAL identified the protester as Ellen Sturtz, one of a few activists affiliated with the organization who attended the fundraiser. GetEqual has urged the president to sign an executive order barring federal contractors from discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The young woman who accosted Michelle Obama was rude, to be sure. Now, I’m not in any position to comment on the racial dynamic here, but let’s just say I’m less than comfortable with a white woman lecturing the nation’s first African-American First Lady like that; and I’m even less comfortable with all the negative reactions to Ms. Obama’s refusal to take the young woman’s guff. Lauren Rankin has a pretty smart take on that part of the controversy here (via @ZerlinaMaxwell)–and she cites our very own Imani Gandy, which makes it extra special–while blogger Awesomely Luvvie offers her own unique (and hilarious) perspective here (via @johnvmoore).

Here’s the thing, though. Aside from the issue of race, I find the whole idea of heckling the spouse of a president to be an odd way to protest what the president has done or failed to do. In this instance, the heckler/protester was upset that Pres. Obama hasn’t yet signed a particular executive order, but she brought the issue to Michelle Obama as though she and the President are one and the same person; or, at the very least, as though Michelle Obama is nothing more than the President’s agent or alter ego.

That’s disrespectful in and of itself, and it could have unfair political ramifications as well. As a supporter of then-candidate Barack Obama in 2008, it was tempting to lay every one of Bill Clinton’s misdeeds on Hillary Clinton’s doorstep. Well, not every misdeed, of course; just the ones he committed in his capacity as president–extraordinary rendition; expanding the scope of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act; his propensity to order military strikes abroad, with or without congressional approval; signing welfare reform into law then failing to honor his promise to ameliorate its harsher effects; the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, and so forth.

But that sort of criticism wasn’t fair back then, and it’s not fair now. If Hillary Clinton wasn’t directly involved in Pres. Clinton’s policy blunders, or if she didn’t support them expressly, it was unfair to assume she agreed with those decisions or would repeat those mistakes just because she was married to him. Because she was and is her own person.

Likewise, Michelle Obama isn’t Barack Obama and isn’t responsible for what he does or fails to do. She doesn’t sign executive orders, and she’s not responsible for his failure to do so. And she most certainly isn’t anybody’s messenger.

As for the future, who knows what Michelle Obama’s political aspirations may entail; but if she chooses to run for office, she, like any candidate, should be judged on her own merits.

It’s worth noting that I agree with Ellen Sturtz’s substantive position: the President should sign an executive order barring federal contractors from discriminating against LGBTQ people. Never underestimate the power of those sorts of executive orders. Affirmative action as we know it began as executive orders issued by Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and–yes–Nixon, and may never have come into existence, even in the private sector, without the actions of those presidents. But if you got a beef with the President, bring it up with the President; don’t treat his wife as though she’s merely an extension of him.

David Von Ebers

View all contributions by David Von Ebers

Similar articles

10 Comments

  1. Randle Aubrey June 6, 2013 at 2:11 pm

    You totally nailed it with this one, Dave. This is exactly what I was thinking, but didn’t quite know how to say. Thank you!

  2. devans00 June 7, 2013 at 1:33 pm

    Interesting that Ellen Sturtz’ sexism, assuming that Mrs. Obama is an extension of her husband, is considered OK by the people applauding heckler her rudeness.

    The GetEQUAL activist group describes themselves as “demand[ing] full legal and social equality, and to hold accountable those who stand in the way.” I’m struggling to see how the first lady, who holds no policy creation roles, fits in this category.

    The sad thing is that I’d normally support a group such as GetEQUAL and consider myself a strong ally. After the Michelle Obama stunt, they definitely get the side eye.

  3. Liza June 9, 2013 at 8:40 am

    After this happened I went back and looked at the video of Medea Benjamin interrupting PBO’s foreign policy speech. After he acknowledged her, he definitely had the upper hand. However, in hindsight, it probably would be better if these hecklers were just escorted out of the event as soon as they begin the interruption. Mainstream media likes nothing better than to focus on an interruption than to report on the content of a speech. Most likely, Benjamin inspired Sturtz and this will continue until the hecklers are not rewarded by media because all they want is media attention for their “cause” or for themselves.

    I really think that Benjamin has become a legend in her own mind, supported by a cult following that, unfortunately, includes Amy Goodman. Her self- congratulatory attitude after interrupting PBO is quite something because she deserves the same backlash as Joe “You Lie” Wilson who interrupted PBO’s SOTU speech. No wonder she inspires wannabe hecklers like Sturtz.

    • rikyrah June 9, 2013 at 1:41 pm

      Legend in her own mind…LOL

  4. caroline June 9, 2013 at 2:53 pm

    Hi Dave,
    I largely agree. But I’ve always kinda liked the co-president couple idea. It seems like every time we’ve had a male president (oh, wait… they’ve all been male), we’ve had lots of moaning in the press about the undue influence the unelected spouse has on the president. There’s usually some code language involved, like “the distaff side,” or some speculation about the potential emotionality of the spouse, or reversion to a criticism of a first lady’s sense of fashion.

    But I always find it comforting that, in a world where it is still difficult for women to be heard on matters of national or international importance, the president goes to bed each night with his spouse, and, maybe, receives a fresh insight or two about the issues of the day.

    They are two different people,and both are really smart and learned. In my heart, I hope that Michelle does influence policy.

    That said, another great piece, Dave. Hope all’s well with you and yours.
    Love,
    C

  5. elg June 10, 2013 at 1:32 am

    “Interesting that Ellen Sturtz’ sexism, assuming that Mrs. Obama is an extension of her husband, is considered OK by the people applauding heckler her rudeness.”

    Ellen Sturtz interrupting First Lady Michelle Obama, over demoralizing anti-gay discrimination in the workplace, at a fundraiser being held at the home of a wealthy LESBIAN couple is “sexist”? Give me a break.

    Does anybody really believe that First Lady Michelle Obama has absolutely NO say in how policy is shaped in this administration? President Obama has said that Michelle (and their daughters) helped him “evolve” in his position on marriage equality. So why can’t Michelle help her husband “evolve” in his position on signing an executive order banning anti-gay discrimination in the federal government based on sexual orientation. And Obama does not have to go through Congress to do this.

    • Randle Aubrey June 10, 2013 at 4:21 pm

      Perhaps the First Lady would have been more accommodating had the subject of her speech been LGBT discrimination and not gun violence against children. Sturtz came in with a complete non-sequitur, attempting to hijack the conversation with a completely different subject than the one being discussed. It was a total hack move, and a clumsy one, at that. Sturtz deserved the treatment she got, and is actually pretty lucky that the First Lady didn’t go all, “hold my weave, gurl” on her and throw her out personally. ;)

      • Christina June 10, 2013 at 5:49 pm

        Yep – not that I think heckling IS the right way to get things done, but if you are going to go that route, I do think it is most effective when it matches the topic at hand. Now, she claims that it was the plea to “think of the children” that spurred on her outburst as she was thinking of the LGBT children who don’t have a future with equal rights, BUT, it was still a stretch and a total de-railing of the flow and point of the speech. When POTUS was heckled recently, it was at a venue and during a speech that was directly related to the point of the outburst.
        Anyway, I am rambling, but I do agree with you. The setting and the topic of the speech are important.

        • Randle Aubrey June 10, 2013 at 6:09 pm

          Exactly. Conversation hijacking is an art form, and Ellen Sturtz is a complete hack.

          Medea Benjamin’s interruption of the president was perfectly timed, and made a mockery of the rogue’s gallery of cowards, liars, and apologists that we call the mainstream media who didn’t dare stand up to the president as she did. It was powerful and impactful, a powerful testament to the spirit of civil disobedience. For her to equate Sturtz’s actions with her own is to give Sturtz credit she does not deserve, and diminish her own accomplishments at the same time. It was pretty shameful, and I find it doubtful that people will take either of them seriously ever again.

  6. elg June 10, 2013 at 6:17 pm

    “Sturtz deserved the treatment she got, and is actually pretty lucky that the First Lady didn’t go all, “hold my weave, gurl” on her and throw her out personally.”

    You can do what the First Lady did exactly once, and this was not a high enough stakes occasion to waste First Lady Bluff on. She has now made herself a target of people who may (or may not) have a racist agenda to see if they can make her blow up and become a stereotypical angry black woman on camera, for a national television audience to see and gloat/laugh at. The First Lady will be dealing with this, in one way or another, from now on.

    If the First Lady blows up again it will damage not just her but black women in general because it will mean that a stereotype about black women has been confirmed for all time.

Leave a Reply