07/26/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Michelle's Earrings And Cindy's Private Plane

I never quite understood the fascination with the British royalty. They always seemed a sad piece of atavism, caught somewhere between tourist attraction and fodder for bodice-ripping novels by women named Collins.

But people seem to have very strong opinions about who is and who isn't appropriate for the role of monarch (or consort), and despite the fact that we democratically elect our leaders and live in a country where 59.3% of women age 16 or over are labor force participants, being an active professional aspiring to the First Lady spot is a good way to get yourself raked over the coals.

I can't think of a First Lady in my lifetime who had less press antagonism than Laura Bush. Despite her husband's historically low approval ratings, hers remain high (84%). Her achievements as a mother and a librarian are laudatory, but they were seen by the press as "acceptable" for a woman of her position -- they threatened no one.

Likewise, Cindy McCain's work as a special education teacher for Down syndrome children is impressive, as are her efforts to bring emergency medical aid to disaster struck and war torn areas. But she isn't challenging a male-dominated power structure in any meaningful way, and her press has largely been glowing. Bitter, razor-wielding columnists like Maureen Dowd have for the most part left her alone.

No such luck for Michelle Obama, about whom the right-wing smear machine is licking its chops. It evidently suits the standards of the chatterati just fine for a multimillionaire beer heiress with nine homes to assume the role of First Lady, but a self-made, Ivy League educated lawyer? Times haven't changed so much after all. It's evidently no more acceptable now than it was sixteen years ago when Hillary Clinton entered the White House.

Michelle Obama mentioned that McCain's $600 rebate plan would have insignificant economic impact and the screeching howler monkeys of the right are seizing on imagery she used to illustrate her point as proof that she's an "elitist":

"You're getting $600. What can you do with that? Not to be ungrateful or anything. But maybe it pays down a bill, but it doesn't pay down every bill every month.

"Barack's approach is that the short-term quick fix kinda stuff sounds good. And it may even feel good that first month when you get that check. And then you go out and you buy a pair of earrings."

Cue wingnut welfare queen Michelle Malkin, who has always been dependent on the kindness of GOP strangers for her daily bread:

Have you seen the price of arugula at Whole Foods earrings at Tiffany's?

This only days after Cindy McCain says that getting around Arizona in a "small private plane" was the only way to travel? I can't even imagine a situation where Michelle Obama says something like this, and the campaign isn't over in a flash.

Michelle Obama's problem is not that she's an elitist in the eyes of the right -- it's that she doesn't have the right to be a member of the elite, like Cindy McCain. Underlying the entire critique is the notion that her commoner pretentions to monarchy are laughable.

Cindy? Why, she's kinda like a modern day Lady Di.

Of course, it's all wrapped up in class- and race-based notions of who is entitled to power, and what those symbols should acceptably look like. Michelle Obama obviously doesn't fit the dress, and thus any smear is considered acceptable to handicap her ascent, no matter how flimsy and manufactured.

You have to wonder what bizarre fixations the right (and the media) are nurturing about what the presidency actually is. The past eight years has made it clear that few have any problems with limitless and unchecked executive power, so perhaps the idea of a benevolent dictator who frees them from the burden of choice sounds pretty good. Standing next to that person, of course, should be someone who is waxed and botoxed beyond human recognizability.

You almost hate to remind them that kings and queens were relegated to holding court in Madame Tussaud's for a reason.

Jane Hamsher blogs at