But of course some people don’t like the thought of Barack Obama being President and his wife being First Lady, and to justify those feelings to themselves (or simply make trouble) they come up with reasons to criticize the couple.
As Amanda Marcotte at Slate reported, this produced right-wing claims that Michelle Obama was being too extravagant or high-class—or perhaps just uppity. Marcotte characterized this as “an ugly attack on Michelle Obama for thinking she gets to have nice things.” We saw that during the 2012 campaign when John Sununu unveiled a hitherto unknown interest in women’s fashion by claiming to know the price of Ms. Obama’s convention outfit (and ignoring Ann Romney’s expensive garments).
Of course, if Ms. Obama had not dressed as well as or better than most of the First Ladies who preceded her, those same critics would have justified their resentment by complaining she was setting too low a tone. We know this because that we started hearing that complaint back in August 2009 when Ms. Obama traveled with her daughters to a vacation in Mexico while wearing shorts. (Once again: August in Mexico.)
How strongly did some people seize on that? Three years later, during the 2012 election, a Republican voter named Bobbie Lussier told National Public Radio her feelings about the Obamas: “I just—I don’t like him. Can’t stand to look at him. I don’t like his wife. She’s far from the First Lady. It’s about time we get a First Lady in there that acts like a First Lady and looks like a First Lady.”
Many listeners interpreted that as rank bigotry, given how Lussier hadn’t mentioned any policy disagreements and instead dwelled on looks (“Can’t stand to look at him…looks like a First Lady”). By a startling coincidence, the same NPR reporter was invited to speak to Lussier again at another event, and she insisted:
I don’t care what color she is. It’s just she just doesn’t act and look like a First Lady. I mean she’s more about showing her arms off. . . . I think that’s very inappropriate for a lot of functions that she goes to. . . .Lussier still didn’t have any policies to complain about. She once again said Michelle Obama doesn’t “look like a First Lady,” but she insisted that wasn’t a response to the color of Ms. Obama’s skin, only the amount of it she could see. Wearing shorts on a tropical vacation! Wearing sleeveless gowns! Doing pushups to promote physical fitness! Lussier compared Ms. Obama unfavorably to “Kennedys or the Bushes or anybody.”
Bloggers quickly pointed out Lussier’s memories of Jacqueline Kennedy were not accurate. At all. Nor her memory of Laura Bush. Or other First Ladies.
In fact, at her husband’s first inaugural one of Ms. Obama’s dresses (shown above) had a bodice very like one that Nancy Reagan wore back in 1981.
Furthermore, Lussier’s comment that “when I go to functions I kind of dress up other than today” revealed that she herself wasn’t dressing up to her own professed standards, the standards she insisted were her only reason for disliking the sight of the Obamas. And all their skin. Somehow I doubt Lussier was any more pleased by this week’s ball gown.