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Richard Cohen Made Me Blog

I wasn’t planning to blog about Michelle Obama’s speech, but Cohen has pushed me into it. Richard, I think you’ve gotten it totally wrong. What was charming about Michelle Obama’s speech, and the adorable family tableau that followed, was its essential normalness: The message was that this was a nice family, a family that might have seemed exotic but that regular American families could identify with. Michelle Obama did not seem lobotomized to me -- a little nervous, yes, especially at the start, and who wouldn’t be? But she was no Stepford wife. Rather, she came across as Everymom, always juggling, but especially now with Daddy on the road. I saw Michelle Obama again this afternoon, following Hillary Clinton at an event put on by Emily's List, and I thought she was equally effective and gracious in a room filled with a number of women who were disappointed not to see Clinton as the nominee. Clinton “has offered me, my daughters and all of our daughters a different vision of who we can become.” This was not Betty Crocker talking.

Why should Obama have to mention race? It is, it seems to me, omnipresent. What was touching about last night was the way in which many Americans were introduced to a different type of African-American family, not the stereotypical struggling single mom and absentee father. Until last night, for many Americans, the closest experience with such families was watching the Huxtables on "The Cosby Show."

Of course it was designed to be the modern-day, inevitable log cabin story, and certainly her attempt to equate her South Side childhood with Barack Obama’s Hawaiian-Indonesian upbringing was a bit strained. Of course her point was to show that she is not Angela Davis revisited. But as such treacly moments go -- think Nancy Reagan with that fixed, adoring gaze -- I thought this was an effective and genuine one that showed an intelligent woman who also loves and respects her husband. These are not, Richard, mutually exclusive.

By Ruth Marcus  | August 26, 2008; 9:32 PM ET
Categories:  Marcus  | Tags:  Ruth Marcus  
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Next: James Carville, Are You Happy Yet?


As one woman to another: Thanks, Ruth.

Posted by: Madeline | August 26, 2008 10:06 PM | Report abuse

Ruth is right. Michelle spoke with authenticity last night - to those who would HEAR here.

Posted by: Christeeny | August 26, 2008 10:17 PM | Report abuse

Amen - I was beginning to wonder if I watched a different speech. You go, Michelle!

Posted by: Anonymous | August 26, 2008 10:20 PM | Report abuse

You let Cohen off too easy. To describe Michelle Obama as "lobotomized" was contemptable. And as for her speech, which so offended him, I can assure you it was a shortened version of the same speech I saw her deliver in Peterborough, New Hampshire, in early December. She was warm and optimistic and she got a standing ovation from a standing room crowd. Thanks, Ruth,for defending her.

Posted by: Daisy | August 26, 2008 10:32 PM | Report abuse

You left Cohen off too easy. To refer to Michelle Obama as "lobotomized" was despicable. And clearly he has never listened to her. We heard her give a longer version of the same speech in early December in a crowded room in an old mill in Peterborough, NH. She was warm and optimistic as she discussed her family and its values, and she was rewarded with a standing ovation. Thank you, Ruth.

Posted by: Daisy | August 26, 2008 10:39 PM | Report abuse

Add another white male who thinks your comments are more accurate than Cohen's. The speech was treacly- but it had to be. She managed to do it without looking like an idiot- which, given the circumstances, is quite an accomplishment.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 26, 2008 10:47 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for striking a blow for decency and thanks for getting it right. Obviously, Cohen is out of touch. The idea of a normal, nuclear black family is outside his realm of imagination.

Posted by: Red Stick Rambler | August 26, 2008 10:49 PM | Report abuse

I think Cohen is not uncomfortable with the idea of a normal black family. He is uncomfortable with the idea, that a bright, articulate black woman needs to reassure the world that she is, at heart, Cindy McCain-a non-threatening white woman.

What a perfect metaphor for our clueless society as it faces multiple financial and environmental crises. I am a bright, well-educated person, ideally suited to deal with these huge problems. But don't worry, I won't actually try to change anything, because my dream is to be a billionaire blonde beer distributor.

And are all of our poor candidates' wives going to have to give this pathetic dog and pony performance from now on?

Posted by: Jamie | August 26, 2008 11:17 PM | Report abuse

What has happened to Richard Cohen? I've always admired him as a writer was eager to challenge his prejudices, yet lately he simply seems eager to espouse the worst spin he can concoct about the Obama campaign.

Posted by: greg | August 26, 2008 11:24 PM | Report abuse

I agree with both Ms. Marcus and Cohen. I'm a Black male and did not find Mr. Cohen's piece at all racially insensitive. If anything it was that he wanted Michelle to be more audacious and less the "supportive" (and non threatening in Michelle's case) wife we've become accustom to seeing in politics. However, the reality is Michelle did a magnificent job considering the circumstances. Even while playing the role of supportive wife, she still has the presence and intelligence to make any post-feminist, modern women proud.

Posted by: Travis Ally | August 26, 2008 11:36 PM | Report abuse

I think Dick Cohen is still upset that his girl isn't the nominee...

Posted by: Captain Obvious | August 26, 2008 11:47 PM | Report abuse

As usual, Cohen attempted to think and write through the permanent fog that is his brain and it came out dead wrong. Good job setting him straight Marcus.

Posted by: Butch Dillon | August 26, 2008 11:54 PM | Report abuse

I'm glad you responded to Cohen's off-key post. You are so right. It was a warm and impressive speech and Michelle Obama is a warm and impressive woman. I think she genuinely connected with Hillary Clinton and that can't be a bad thing for the Democrats.

Posted by: Chuck | August 27, 2008 12:20 AM | Report abuse

It's futile to explain some things to (old white) men like Richard Cohen. In their eyes, a (black) woman like Michelle Obama can do nothing right; there's always some room for improvement. While a fellow (old white) man like McCain can do nothing wrong.

Hey Richard, I await your stinging critique of McCain for abusing his history of having been a POW a long time ago. You're working on that article already, right? LOL.

Posted by: A Waste Of Time | August 27, 2008 12:51 AM | Report abuse

Sorry but I agree with Cohen.

Posted by: MJ | August 27, 2008 1:07 AM | Report abuse

Cohen never had a brain to start with.

Posted by: Jim | August 27, 2008 1:22 AM | Report abuse

Richard Cohen makes a LOT of us blog.

I kinda downplay him in my blog, Everybody Laughs At Broder, because the rest of blogland has gotten so good at dismantling his ridiculous columns.

Posted by: rt42 | August 27, 2008 5:24 AM | Report abuse

Totally ridiculous and inappropriate for Michelle Obama to speak at all. And what a turnoff to see the children exploited that way. I'm a Democrat and I'll vote for Obama, but why are they going out of their way to make it so hard for me to do so?

Posted by: Morag | August 27, 2008 6:25 AM | Report abuse

Interesting that I had the same reaction to the column and was moved to blog on Cohen's site. I guess it's the world we live in now.
Michelle Obama did exactly what she needed to do which was hold her own and come across as NORMAL---on an evening when she could not hope to compete with the emotion of Teddy Kennedy making it to the convention and 'passing the torch.' Carville is wrong about this one. To all the well-meaning opinionators advising Obama to change his strategy or abandon his soaring rhetoric; you would do well to remember the 1980 campaign--NO Democrat would have believed that Ronald Reagan could be taken seriously as a candidate, let alone win, but he did. With no more experience than Obama. I say here and now to ALL voters, Barack Obama brings MUCH more to the table than Ronald Reagan and he can be successful--by BEING Barack Obama--the one that made it through the most brutal primary campaign in my life--sticking to his calls to something higher and better than personal gratification or status quo.

Posted by: dch | August 27, 2008 7:54 AM | Report abuse

And...why does NORMAL have to mean so clearly 'subdued'?? As an an African American woman/Obama supporter, I wince at Michelle's speech and applaud Hillary's -mostly because if I have to downplay every facet of my being/experience in this nation to win over others - frankly I don't want to play.

In the end Hillary has been a true contender - who lived out the Harriet Tubman words she spoke last night, in front of my face this past year - whether I liked it or not. She kept a' going. DAMN STRAIGHT SHE DID. And in the end, she has regained my respect. So people need to take Michele for who she is, LIKE IT OR NOT. COMFORTABLE OR NOT. We don't need another June Cleaver stereotype before us - though her skin might be brown. That is not real it? Claire Huxtable (The Cosby Show - editor's reference) was *not* June Cleaver. Neither is Michele Obama. Give that a REST. Be FOR REAL. Come real and let the others kiss your..@$$.

But that won't get you in the White House, will it? Nope. So we Negro women just smile and wave. And keep a' going as bes' we can.

Posted by: THANK YOU TRAVIS ALLY | August 27, 2008 9:24 AM | Report abuse

prior post should begin THANK YOU TRAVIS ALLY.


Posted by: Proud Mary | August 27, 2008 9:26 AM | Report abuse

I loved your reference in passing to Nancy Reagan "with that fixed, adoring gaze" toward her "beloved Ronnie."

The fact that quite a few people in America find anything "notable" in the "dainty" persona of Nancy Reagan reflects on the gullibility of those folks. Her only contribution ever to human society which I can think of was her promoting the simpleminded "Just Say No" slogan about drug use among young people during the years of her hubby's administration. (The "Just Say No" remedy ought to cure all human problems like cheating, lying, being greedy, being short-tempered, and so on.)

It is true that now that she is 87, frail in health, and widowed, and had to experience for some years undoubtedly huge pains of living with her husband while he suffered from AD, we should leave her alone without negative comments about her, and indeed hold best wishes for her; but she was a public figure, who having merely happened to have married a future president received lots of nonsensical adulation for two decades since 1980, with the customary fawning interviews in The Ladies Home Journal, and so on.

Posted by: Observer | August 27, 2008 9:38 AM | Report abuse

Michelle Obama spoke to me - she touched my heart. I'm old enough to be her mother and raised six children after divorcing my husband. My heart aches when I think about their not having the love and care of a father. Their father had problems of his own that precluded his being a caretaker for them, very much like Barack's father. If you saw Michelle and I standing side by side you would doubt that that we had anything in common but she spoke in a way that made us sound like soul sisters - even though I'm white.

Thank you, Michelle. It was a tough speech to give and you did an admirable job.

Posted by: willad1 | August 28, 2008 1:04 AM | Report abuse

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