Barack Obama took another stride towards Pennsylvania Avenue this week, or so it seemed to this ignorant observer at a remove of several thousand miles, and for once he didn't even have to open his honeyed mouth. The Senator has been on cracking form lately, giving a wonderful Father's Day speech about the evil of absentee fatherhood, but that may have rather less electoral impact than a television appearance by his wife Michelle.
Several months ago, you may recall, Michelle unwittingly handed a tactical nuclear weapon to the Republicans when she declared, of the warm reaction to her husband's candidacy, that this was the first time in her adult life she had felt "really proud of my country". Stripped of that qualifying "really" in reports, and harnessed to the Rev Jeremiah Wright, the remark was a gift from God to Obama's enemies. It reinforced the potentially lethal perception of him as an arugula-eating, no fat latte-sipping, Martha's Vineyard-vacationing, Ivy League elitist who sneers at Joe and Joanna Six-Pack and their taste for guns, religion, apple pie, motherhood and the American flag. A vast armada of Swift Boat captains rejoiced at the prospect of using Michelle to do to Obama what they did to John Kerry, and you have to assume that prototype 30-second television commercials, featuring that comment juxtaposed on a split screen with flag-draped coffins of US marines coming home, have already gathered some dust in Washington safes.
This in mind, Michelle went on the daytime show The View and spent 25 minutes chatting with Whoopi Goldberg, Barbara Walters and other presenters. We have a pallid replica on ITV, by the way. It's called Loose Women and Joan Rivers was on it the same day Michelle appeared on The View, although she didn't last as long. That 75-year-old Jewish grandmother was bundled out of the studio by security during an ad break after calling Russell Crowe, with what close students of the actor will regard as laudable restraint, "a fucking shit".
It is highly unusual for any American, let alone a septuagenarian, to cuss in full media view, especially in daylight. There is a useful precedent, however, and it comes from John McCain. Once, when his wife Cindy referred to his thinning hair, the salty old sea dog unleashed a tough, no-nonsense counterstrike. Had he not made it in front of three Arizona reporters, he'd have denied it. But he did, so he can't. "At least I don't plaster on the make-up like a trollop, you cunt," he said.
What a lovely, cuddly gramps the Republican nominee is, and while Michelle talked about her wedlock, the contrast spoke for itself. Mr McCain, born into privelege, divorced his first wife after she became disabled and wed the tall, blonde, frosty-looking Cindy, who happened to be the heiress to a colossal fortune. The Obamas, he from that famously diffuse and confused food stamps background, she the daughter of poor but ever-present parents in Chicago, will strike some as the more engaging manifestation of the American Dream.
Whatever the McCains call each other in private, it is abundantly clear that the Obamas ... but no, that's arrant gibberish, even by my standards. You can seldom see half an inch beyond the façade into the marriages of close friends, so it would be idiotic to claim insight into the union of two complete strangers. All any outsider can say is that Michelle and Barack convincingly appear to adore each other in the least schmaltzy of ways, and on this she touched in the interview.
But she did more than ruefully admit that he no longer takes out the garbage. Of all the various enchantments offered by Rupert Murdoch's Fox News about her of late – among them a carefully nuanced, racial reference to organising "a lynching mob" to punish her lack of patriotic pride" – the silliest was a correspondent's interpretation of the sweet little fist-pump she gave Barack the night he clinched the nomination as a "secret terrorist gesture". So out she came and amusingly insisted on doing the pump with all the presenters. She then proceeded, with elegant efficiency, to assuage fears that she is the relentlessly angry, undercover Black Power agent to her husband's Islamic militant sleeper.
She cooed "I know your life too, girlfriend" to female Clinton fans, speaking of the busy mum's nightmare of getting dressed to go out while the old man just throws on the nearest suit, and paying homage to Hillary for lacerating the glass ceiling on behalf of her two small girls. She touched on sexism and racism, lightly and without sounding remotely preachy, and thanked Laura Bush for supporting her over the unpatriotic thing, hinting that she regards the current First Lady as a role model so far as avoiding the fanning of flames. And she touched on her husband with discreet warmth (discreeter than her previous commentary on his morning breath, at least, that mouth not always being so honeyed) in a pre-emptive rejoinder to all the Lady MacBeth stuff that will inevitably ensue. "I had this man I loved," she said, recalling her displeasure when he first entered politics, "and he was sweet and pathetic..."
She, meanwhile, was sensational. Fiercely intelligent, highly eloquent, witty and mischievous ("Be good" was the extent of Barack's pre-show pep-talk), as natural a TV performer as you will ever lay eyes on... apologies for the press release, but this woman is every bit as impressive as her husband, and then some. She is also, at the risk of being thrown out of the vanguard of current neo-feminist thinking like Joan Rivers leaving a studio, incredibly beautiful. If the Obama White House is to be the new Camelot, what a Guinevere she will make (although preferably without facilitating too much cuckoldry).
Assuming that that most chivalrous of spouses, John McCain, is duly routed in November, something pretty astonishing appears imminent. The world, or at least that vast chunk of it that still sees America as the planet's best and only hope, despite the last eight years, is preparing to fall in love with the United States all over again, and if so Michelle Obama will play a central part. So prepare for a second wave of Obamania, this time with Michelle on every glamour mag front page.
In the meantime, if those stupid old white men of the Republican war machine and its kissing cousin Fox News want to bring it on, good. Let them make the racist allusions and outlandish smears, and watch as they bounce back off the middle-American voters at whom they are aimed and smack them in their smug, repellent chops. Millions will have seen Michelle live on The View (countless Hillary diehards among them), many millions more will watch it on YouTube, and I'd be amazed if a good chunk of them don't find themselves fantasising about her doing a Hillary and one day having a run for the White House herself.
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