Thursday, November 25, 2010
Can something be learned from this?
An interesting article on America’s first lady and her social traits which many see as not so politically-correct as published by Yahoo! News and Politico.
Can we learn something here?...
“She has glamorized kitchen gardening, spotlighted childhood obesity and invited thousands of students, many of them minorities, to official White House events.
Expectations were high for a different kind of first lady, and in many ways Michelle Obama has lived up to them, maintaining the kind of high public profile that was widely anticipated when she and her husband came to Washington.
At the same time, she has been a victim of those expectations, disappointing some in Washington who hoped she would be a more expansive social presence, and eliciting the familiar criticism of recent first ladies that she keeps too much to herself.
In a new book on the presidency, “Revival: The Struggle for Survival Inside the Obama White House,” Richard Wolffe writes that because of the constant pressure of the past 22 months the president's circle of friends and confidants “shrank rather than expanded.”
Interviews with the spouses of administration officials and members of Congress as well as Washington social observers suggest that the same thing is true of his wife as well.
In many ways, Michelle Obama has emulated the president’s approach, relying on a close-knit group of friends and confidants from Chicago to help shape her agenda and find her way in a community that she has been wary of joining.
“There has been no attempt to reach out to people they don’t see as their people,” said the wife of a senior administration official, who doesn’t have Chicago ties. “They don’t reach out even to people in the administration who aren’t from their inner circle.”
“It’s extremely businesslike,” she added, before invoking a comparison with the early days of the Kennedy administration. “It’s not Camelot.”
And maybe that is the problem. The return to the White House of an attractive couple with two young children on a tide of idealism placed an impossible burden on both the president and his wife.
"Because of the campaign, people expected Obama and the first lady to revitalize some of the glamour of the White House and bring Camelot back to Washington," said Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University who has studied recent presidencies.
"But the realities of Washington make that difficult. We're in an era where it's hard to recreate Camelot. People are increasingly cynical about politics, and it's really a partisan world. I don't think either party would allow the president of the opposite party and the first lady to enjoy that kind of existence."
One telling indication of that reality: In the first few months in the White House, the Obama’s hosted a half-dozen cocktail parties to get to know members of Congress. As the health care debate became more heated last spring and Obama became more of a Republican target, the cocktail parties were abruptly ended.
To be sure, the first lady has made a concerted effort to establish "the people's house" by inviting thousands of guests to cultural shows at the White House including jazz, classical and Broadway performances. She opened up "the backyard” to host a series of sports clinics and other outdoor activities to promote her "Let's Move!" initiative and held more than a dozen events in her kitchen garden, which has garnered worldwide attention and praise.
And she and her husband have hosted Super Bowl parties for administration officials and members of Congress (and their families) on both sides of the aisle.
In 2009, according to a White House aide, the visitors office delivered "record-breaking attendance and welcomed more guests than any year post-9/11" with more than 600,000 people. In 2010, the aide pointed out that the office has already exceeded 2009 numbers.
And now with advent of the holiday season, the first lady is ramping up the social calendar, hosting more than a dozen parties for Congress, administration officials, news media, military families and wounded troops as well as civic, faith and business leaders respectively.
"We plan on welcoming over 100,000 guests in December alone and our total guest count is projected to be slightly over 800,000," the aide said.
“She has opened up the White House to so many groups of different people,” said Debra Lee, CEO of BET Networks and a longtime Obama supporter. “I went over the week after they first moved in and it already felt different.”
Lee, one of the nation’s most prominent black businesswomen, is emblematic of one of the most historic changes the Obamas have brought to the White House — the presence of highly successful African-Americans.
Over popcorn and soda last week, for instance, the first lady screened Tyler Perry’s “For Colored Girls” for about 50 guests, mostly black women.
“It was not political,” said E. Faye Williams, chairwoman of the National Congress of Black Women, who has known the president since his Senate days. But, Williams acknowledged, the guests were mostly “people [the first lady] has known through the campaign and others through the work that we do.”
Longtime friends continue to be her most intimate confidants. “Their closest friends are their friends from Chicago,” a White House aide said.
White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett — a friend from the first lady's days working in the Chicago mayor’s office — is a frequent dinner companion. Soon-to-depart chief of staff Susan Sher, another colleague from the mayor’s office, is her closest adviser. And Michelle Obama's mother, Marian Robinson, moved from Chicago to live at the White House.
Last summer, the first lady vacationed in Spain with her old pal Anita Blanchard, whose husband Marty Nesbitt is the president’s close friend. Chicago friends Eric and Cheryl Whitaker have joined the family on vacation in Hawaii and even at the president’s Nobel prize ceremony last year.
And when the Obamas have on the very rare occasion ventured out to private residences, it’s usually to Jarrett’s Georgetown condo, though they have made more-public outings to Five Guys, the International Spy Museum, the Kennedy Center and a host of restaurants across town.
One reason they don’t socialize more is familiar to all young parents — they either want or need to spend time with their kids. “It’s not like she can go out every night,” one friend of the first lady said.
And at least some of their informal socializing revolves around their daughters, Sasha and Malia.
“I talk to parents in their grade level who say the first lady is very accessible,” said Lee, whose daughter attends Sidwell Friends School with the Obamas' daughters. “She’s not standoffish just because she has Secret Service. It’s not a barrier. She takes time to get to know parents and their kids.”
The first lady, who had never really forged strong bonds with congressional wives when her husband was a senator, is now involved in school potlucks, award banquets and soccer games for her daughters, said people who run in the same social circles.
“She is very focused on being there for the kids,” one source said. “That’s her No. 1 goal.”
“They’ve made it clear they're not going to run back to Chicago every week,” Lee said. “This is their home. They’re going to be a part of it.”
Still, when the first couple arrived in Washington, there was an expectation that the Obamas — especially the first lady — would be more of a public presence.
Washingtonians had high hopes of rubbing shoulders with the first lady, as hairdressers lobbied to do her hair, women rushed to buy J. Crew cardigans and Good Stuff Eatery named a turkey burger the “Michelle Melt.”
"I think when they came in, there was this expectation that they would be this young hot couple and they would be out on the town and would pump some new blood into the social scene and that just hasn’t happened,” said Sally Quinn, journalist and Georgetown hostess. “They've kept very much to themselves.”
The first lady, Quinn added, has been all about "community outreach, not social outreach."
The Obama’s are “very funny people socially,” said the wife of one high-ranking Democrat. “The first lady is not inclusive at all,” she said. “It's one of the complaints people have, especially a lot of the congressional spouses."
In fact, spouses were miffed last year when the first lady didn’t host a traditional luncheon for them. Then-social secretary Desiree Rogers received a string of complaints, according to the wife of one Republican member.
Friends and associates of the Obamas dismiss such criticism with barely disguised contempt, as did people who were close to first ladies Laura Bush and Hillary Clinton,.
"It's not surprising that Washington socialites are unhappy that some of their tickets have been given to people that the first lady preferred to invite to White House — like wounded warriors, military families and community leaders from across the country,” said one Democrat close to the White House.
"But this criticism from Washington insiders is a small price to pay for opening the doors of the White House to more Americans than ever."
But Catherine Allgor, a history professor at the University of California at Riverside, who studies the "parlor politics" of first ladies, said it would be a mistake to dismiss the Washington social scene. “When it comes to politics, parties are never frivolous," she said.
And Allgor has some advice for Michelle Obama: “Get out there and start making friends.”
Anita McBride, who served as chief of staff to Laura Bush, said Obama is doing what other first ladies have done: establishing a “sanctuary” at home. “Creating a family life when you live above the store is an important thing to do,” she said.
But on the heels of the “shellacking” the Democrats received in the midterm election, “This is not a time to hunker down and retreat,” McBride said. “This is a time to use all the tools at your disposal to foster relationships. This is an opportunity where she can help her husband stay engaged and forge relationships, even with those who may not agree with you.”
Posted by Lenggong Valley at 3:19 PM