Was this really a 'terrorist fist jab'? The right says so

Now that Hillary Clinton, the chief hate figure for conservatives, is out of the picture, right-wing commentators are turning their guns on Michelle Obama just as they attacked John Kerry's wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, four years ago.

Millions of people saw Mrs Obama daintily bump fists with her husband last week just before he claimed the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination at a rally in St Paul, Minnesota. More common on the sports field, the gesture was decried as "Hizbollah hand jabbing" on the Human Events blog. On Fox News, the host asked, in all seriousness, if it was, "a terrorist fist jab?".

Dubbed, "the fist bump heard round the world", it was interpreted by most people as the friendly gesture it was meant to be and politicians were soon fist bumping one another on TV chat shows. Some called it the "fist bump of hope". The more straight-laced New York Times said it was a "closed-fisted high-five".

On television Mr Obama later explained that: "It captures what I love about my wife. That for all the hoopla I'm her husband and sometimes we'll do silly things."

But there remains an undertow of animosity against Mrs Obama. Yesterday she was described as the "new unwilling contestant in round two of the sulfurous game of kill the witch", by the columnist Maureen Dowd. As a political figure Mrs Obama is on a steep learning curve, even though – unlike Hillary Clinton's time in the White House – she does not intend to make policy pronouncements. Her priority, should her husband be elected, would be her two young daughters, she insists.

Mrs Obama's earthy sense of humour and a determination to keep her husband grounded as his celebrity status grows has made her a target for the conservative media.

"Mrs Grievance" scream-ed the cover of the archly conservative National Review, with a grim-faced photograph. The conservative blogger, Michelle Malkin, calls her "Obama's bitter half", and Christopher Hitchens even blames her for the Reverend Jeremiah Wright fiasco because she joined his church first.

The internet, already awash with misogynistic attacks on Mrs Clinton, has several websites devoted to attacking Mrs Obama, prompted by her unvarnished views on America.

In unscripted remarks in February she enthused about the response to her husband's message of hope. She said: "For the first time in my adult life, I am proud of my country because it feels like hope is finally making a comeback."

For that she earned a swipe from the billionaire wife of the Republican presidential candidate John McCain. Cindy McCain said: "I'm proud of my country, I don't know about you if you heard those words earlier, I'm very proud of my country."

The Obama campaign rushed to clarify her remarks. "What she meant is that she's really proud at this moment because for the first time in a long time, thousands of Americans who've never participated in politics before are coming out in record numbers to build a grass-roots movement for change."

On talk radio the bile against Mrs Obama was unrelenting. Commentators piled in claiming that she was just another angry black woman, ungrateful for the breaks that took her to Princeton University and Harvard Law School.

A website, TheObamaFile.com tries to paint Mr Obama as a "privileged African-American", who is "by birth, blood and training, a Muslim ... a socialist whose politics are rooted in Marx." In a section devoted to "The Wife" it cites a Daily Mail article purporting to show that her working-class upbringing was relatively privileged.

"These folks should lay off my wife," said Mr Obama, on ABC's Good Morning America as she sat beside him. "She loves this country, and for them to try to distort or play snippets of her remarks in ways unflattering to her I think is just low-class."