08/01/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Michelle is Ungrateful? For What?

Ramesh Ponnuru, author of the hilariously titled The Party of Death: The Democrats, the Media, the Courts and the Disregard for Human Life, has purged once more on the pages of the Washington Post. His target: Michelle Obama. In justifying the right wing attacks on her, he writes, "Her combination of bitterness, ingratitude, anti-Americanism, leftism, and, yes, elitism rubs a lot of people the wrong way."

"Ingratitude?" Hmmm. Never heard this one used against a white person in the political spotlight. For what is she supposed to be grateful? What favors have been bestowed upon her, and to whom should she bow in appreciation for them? Should she be grateful for being allowed to exercise her birthrights as an American citizen? Obviously, to Mr. Ponnuru, a black woman like her like should express her appreciation for being allowed to do so.

Being Indian-American and dark himself, his roots lie in a place where the term "nigger" was applied as freely to his forebears as it has been to black Americans here at home. The British used the term just as derisively. In America, however, despite dark skin, Indian Americans have never been "niggers." Perhaps this is something for which to be grateful. Perhaps he believes such gratitude should be universal among dark American peoples no longer prevented from exercising their (what I'm sure he would call) "God-given" rights--and no longer swatting at the term "nigger" buzzing around them like flies.

Yes, I know; it's impossible to glean the workings of so clouded a mind as Ponnuru's, but his choice of words is telling in the extreme. Blacks should be grateful--more so than whites. This is not just the quiet gratitude for having been born in a wealthy country with democratic principles. Ours should be the loud, showy kind of appreciation. Obviously, per Ponnuru, we ought to be kissing someone's ass. He simply fails to specify whose.

Care to take a guess?

The other sins of which Ponnuru accuses Michelle Obama bear the same cast (no pun intended). A black person cannot criticize any aspect of American society without being called "anti-American," but right-wingers can express outright contempt for vast swaths of the American populace (those who favor abortion rights, equal rights for gays, withdrawal from Iraq, universal health care) without facing a similar accusation. Ah, but the wingers aren't criticizing any aspect of the era of undisputed white, male privilege. That's the "real America," and that's what one dare not attack.

He attacks her "Elitism." In other words, she's "uppity." This is an outgrowth of her other sins. By not bowing before whomever it is Ponnuru believes she should bow (while making clear she should be bowing to someone) she is marked as thinking too much of herself, of flying too high--she, a black, working mother born of a water plant employee and a secretary.

Sometimes it seems that many Americans fear a black First Lady more than a merely half-white President. But for me, and I suspect a lot of other black Americans, Michelle Obama is Barack Obama's better half. For us, she helps answer some of the questions that still swirl around him--and she answers them just right.

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