Following up on last week’s blog entry about how women are less convinced of the effectiveness of the United States’ democratic system, I decided to turn towards Michelle Obama as First Lady. Michelle Obama, who met her husband when her husband became her mentee at the law firm where she worked, arguably was just as capable as her husband of becoming a politician. However, as a wife of a senator and later, the First Lady of the United States, she has chosen to take a back seat to her husband. By working on childhood obesity and support for military families, rather than any issue currently hotly debated in legislation, she, perhaps, is not utilizing her education and her skills to their fullest extent.
However, Michelle Obama has clearly chosen this path after some hard-earned lessons. During the campaign, when her comments were more sharp, she was chastised by the press for being hard-hitting; the media called her an “angry black woman” and tore apart her comments that “for the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country” in 20081.
But more importantly than her experience on the campaign are the experiences of the previous First Ladies, specifically that of Hilary Clinton. In polls regarding First Ladies, it is remarkable to see that Hilary Clinton’s average approval rating is ten percent below Michelle Obama’s, seventeen percent below her successor, Laura Bush, and twenty-one percent below that of her predecessor, Barbara Bush.
Throughout Hilary Clinton’s years as the First Lady of Arkansas, she had led policy initiatives. Upon her arrival in the White House, she became one of her husband’s closest advisers, often helping him with filling appointments. Most notably, she was chosen to help lead his attempt at universal healthcare. As First Lady, she was attacked for “overstepping” in terms of policy; however, as Senator, Secretary of State, and potential presidential candidate, she has had an easier time in terms of approval by Americans2.
One may say that maybe Clinton’s experience twenty years ago does not reflect the current reality of the limits of the First Lady today. However, Michelle Obama, arguably also an opinionated, highly-educated woman who started out in the Obama campaign as a key spokeperson, was also “subdued” by media reports. The Obama campaign sought to soften her image as soon as it became obvious that she was viewed as too harsh. Thus, it is clear from both of these women’s experiences, as well as the more subdued experiences of Laura Bush (who, if she had any ideas of policymaking, would have learned directly from Hilary Clinton) and Barbara Bush, that women may now have a seat at the table in terms of policymaking in the form of senators, representatives, and maybe even president. However, the First Lady remains, first and foremost in the minds of Americans, a mother, a wife, and a hostess.