THE BLOG

Hatin' on Michelle

08/20/2010 06:36 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The hatin' on Michelle Obama for her five day Spanish vacation was just the tip of the iceberg. The reason for the hostility is simple. It's the GOP's sneaky back door way of assaulting him, the him is, of course, President Obama. There's much talk comparing the attacks on Michelle to the attacks on First Ladies Jackie Kennedy for her chic vacations, Nancy Reagan for her profligate spending on decorative china, and expensive White House redecorations, and Hillary Clinton for every sin real and imagined that a First lady could commit. But Michelle is a special case, only because Obama is. Start with her approval ratings

What possible difference could it make whether her approval ratings have slid double digit in the past few months? Or that she or First Ladies even have approval ratings in the first place? Michelle is not the president. She holds no elected office. She's penned no legislation. Her initiatives on child obesity, increased support for military families, and early childhood education have been about as controversial as motherhood and Apple pie. But we know First Ladies do have approval ratings. And there's great delight in comparing Michelle's plunging ratings to Laura Bush, whose numbers never dropped during her first lady years in the White House even as W. Bush's sunk to new lows. Some GOP strategists have even played the good cop and bad cop routine with Michelle warning that it's bad business to attack a woman and an African-American woman. But that's purely for public consumption. The GOP sniffed that Michelle would be an especially inviting surrogate to hammer Obama from the earliest days of the presidential campaign.

Obama's opponents eagerly latched onto out-of-context statement she made at a campaign rally in which she allegedly questioned her faith in America, and made a supposedly less than reverential reference to the flag. They brutally tarred her as a closet anti-American, race-obsessed, black radical. That made her an instant campaign liability. For weeks she virtually disappeared from the campaign trail. She later reemerged as a much softer role player in the background. She smartly sloughed off any talk that she would be a Hillary-type, White House fill-in for Obama on major policy issues.
But that just made her even more vulnerable to serve as a surrogate for the GOP to take veiled shots at Obama, no matter how low-key and supportive she's remained. She got knocks for the failed Chicago Olympic bid, and for uttering a few words on health care reform. Her shopping excursions, the couple's date night in New York, and her White House Garden have been ridiculed.

A viral email buzzed around the nets and blogs for a time that pounded her for her high-salaried and top-heavy staff. A British tabloid even engaged in malicious mischief when it claimed that Michelle's undergraduate thesis written in 1985 with the hardly incendiary title of "Princeton-Educated Blacks and the Black Community" was an open call for black militancy.

The aim was to firmly link Michelle in the public's mind as both a power behind the White House throne and to identify her with the alleged bad policies of Obama. The vacation in Spain was a textbook example of that. It wasn't the actual vacation, or that it was too royal and ritzy for the average American's tastes. It was the cost and the political schmoozing that the GOP latched onto to make its favorite attack points of an out of control spending White House that can't solve the crushing problem of joblessness, home foreclosures, and a stagnating economy. It also worried that Michelle scored some favorable political points for the administration with the European press and Spanish political leaders during her trip. The vacation then was just a convenient ploy to rake over the coals Obama's policies that the GOP hates. The same attack points will be on the lips of every GOP candidate and incumbent that's up for reelection in November.

The GOP had a long dress rehearsal in how to hector and pick at a First Lady with Hillary. And the political motive was the same. Manufacture scandal, and to relentlessly play up every bit of dirty gossip, rumor and innuendo possible about Hillary. Then tie it directly back to President Clinton and hope enough of the mud about her sticks to him.

Obama's presidency is the most watched and in turn reviled by the GOP since FDR's. Michelle's equally historic step into the First Lady spot assured that she would be the most watched and reviled First Lady since Hillary. The GOP's perverse targeting of her is that she is their back door to knock Obama.

She'll hit the campaign trail in the fall and stump for some Democrats. Despite the GOP's phony protest that Michelle will be off limits, don't believe it. Expect more hatin' on Michelle.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He hosts a nationally broadcast political affairs radio talk show on Pacifica and KTYM Radio Los Angeles.
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