The response to Michelle Obama’s speech during Tuesday’s Democratic National Convention proves that her conditional relationship with the truth only fuels her popularity.
On Tuesday night, former Democrat presidential candidate Marianne Williamson compared this year’s ongoing Democratic National Convention (DNC) to “binge-watching a Marriott commercial” and blasted its lack of policy prescriptions. However, where the Convention stumbled in regards to proposing concrete policy solutions, it succeeded in wheeling out furious critiques of the incumbent Republicans. In a taped address, former first lady Michelle Obama claimed: “He [Trump] has had more than enough time to prove that he can do the job, but he is clearly in over his head. He cannot meet this moment. He simply cannot be who we need him to be for us. It is what it is.”
Straight-faced, the former first lady lamented how “They [voters] watch in horror as children are torn from their families and thrown into cages”, referring to ongoing issues at the Mexican border. The Associated Press was swift to issue an official correction, reminding Mrs Obama that “Trump used facilities that were built during the Obama-Biden administration to house children at the border. They are chain-link enclosures inside border facilities where migrants were temporarily housed, separated by sex and age.” The line “Full of sound and fury signifying nothing” soliloquised in Act V of Macbeth, in which the unhinged eponymous king reacts to news of his equally scheming wife’s death comes to mind.
Yet the nothing-ness offered by Mrs Obama’s regurgitation of anti-Trump talking points, with zero suggestion of what her husband or a potential Biden administration would actually do differently, made little dent on her “Kween” status on social media. Despite having never been elected to a political office, Michelle Obama continues to be cited as one of the most liked figures in the Democratic Party, and her speech spread far and wide, with YouTube and Twitter clips clocking up millions of views overnight. A CNN op-ed lauded how her speech went “where no former first lady ever has“. Like Hillary Clinton before her, Michelle Obama deliberately fashions herself to represent the nostalgic “Good” of her husband’s years in power. Her critics are framed as the irredeemable “Bad” of the Trump administration. The conditional relationship of both women with the truth barely registers a blip on the public radar.
According to Jackie Kennedy, who remains one of the most beloved former First Ladies, “presidents’ wives have an obligation to contribute something.” But what that “something” is, naturally varies wildly from First Lady to First Lady. Some First Ladies have been criticised for doing too much and others for not doing enough. An article from the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum describes how “Each woman has had to make her own rules and define her role without the guidance or limitations of the Constitution.” Although the American constitution itself fails to define the scope of the First Lady’s role during and after her husband’s Presidency, there should be no doubt that the style of each has not been radically independent, but one more cog in the mammoth Presidential machine.
A graduate of two Ivy League schools and a career woman in her own right, Michelle Obama is certainly not short of her own agency and talents. However, she is part of the mounting proof that the progressive First Ladies, and former ones, are steadfast becoming trained for their own political bids that seek to recapture the perceived “status quo” of their spouse’s leadership against the threat of a Republican victory. They do not need to propose concrete policy changes. Their success is contingent only on their celebrity-like appeal. But if the Democrats really want to change America for the better, they must focus on what they ought to do, rather than what Donald Trump should not.