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May 15, 2009

Arms and the woman

Michelle Obama Recently, readers of the Washington Post have been subjected to large and unhealthy helpings of treacle during breakfast, to the point where we're starting to think about keeping a bucket handy. A couple of weeks ago, it was television columnist Tom Shales who had readers sputtering into their cornflakes with an account of President Obama at a press conference that read like a 12-year-old girl’s description of Edward Cullen. The star of The Barack Obama Show was “comfortingly cool and collected,” “articulate,” “friendly,” “accessible,” “gracious to a fault,” a man of “perfect comic timing,” and, on the whole, “flabbergasting.” Apparently he had even developed superpowers, as Shales swore that Obama “made eye contact with us folks at home” through the television screen.

But the pièce de résistance was an adverbial pileup that would have made a high school writing teacher send the author back to write another draft: “You ask, he’ll answer—earnestly, disarmingly, enchantingly even.”

The piece caused unbridled hilarity among commenters on the Post’s website, leading ombudsman Andrew Alexander to point out that TV columns, unlike straight news stories, are not supposed to be objective. He missed the point: The majority of objections were inspired not by the piece’s lack of objectivity, but by its resemblance to something out of Teen People.

Yet Shales’s love letter looked positively cold next to Sally Quinn’s Mother's Day ode to Michelle Obama’s arms. It’s hardly the first such tribute, of course—like severed appendages in an old B movie, the First Arms have taken on a life of their own, earning widespread awe. They even have their own blog. But Quinn’s tribute left all others in the dust. These are not just arms, she explains: They are “transformational.”

I swear I am not making this up, as Dave Barry likes to say. The arms, it turns out, are not just representative of enough time and energy to do regular workouts. They “are representative of a new kind of woman: young, strong, vigorous, intelligent, accomplished, sexual, powerful, embracing and, most of all, loving.” (This, Quinn assures us, is not just her opinion, but also that of the “prominent Washington theologian” with whom she discussed the “serious” matter.)

Were you aware that these were “new” qualities for women? Me neither.

Quinn isn’t content just to outpace Tom Shales in the category of Biggest Number of Modifiers in a Row; she goes on to challenge him for Most Breathtaking Statement of the Obvious. While Shales was bowled over that Obama answered questions at a press conference, Quinn’s mind is blown by the fact that Obama’s wife—get this—loves her children. “This is a woman who has the courage to say ‘I am mom in chief’ and make her children and her family—unapologetically—her No. 1 priority.” And goodness knows, no First Lady has ever done that before.

But the rest of us are in luck, too, because those arms are wide enough to embrace the whole country. Forget “The Eyes of Texas” (as Shales, Quinn, & Co. would no doubt love to do); The Arms of Michelle are upon you. “It’s those arms again: By going around to various agencies and talking about what the administration wants to do, she is, in her own way, embracing America.” And not just America, either: “I see a woman embracing the Queen of England when the queen put her arm around her, a warm, loving and, yes, respectful gesture made to the mother of the nation.” In fact, Earth Mother Michelle just wants to share her “embracing, embraceable arms” with everyone: “As one of the guests pointed out toward the end of the lunch, when the first lady arrived she gave everyone a hug. With those arms.” (Because that wouldn’t have been clear if Quinn hadn’t specified it.)

It’s interesting how the fear of many in our chattering class, that the once-strident Mrs. Obama was turning into June Cleaver, has been swamped by this wave of gooey sentimentality. Suddenly that’s exactly who they want her to be. The plethora of articles like Shales’s and Quinn’s send a clear signal that a significant portion of our press and our electorate don’t want tough leadership; they want warm and fuzzy. They want Mommy Michelle—and Daddy Barack—to tuck them in and make all the bad, scary, ugly things go away. And, of course, hug them with those arms.

So they go heavy on the sycophantic puff pieces—drooling over the fashion sense, the dog, the children’s swing set, the organic garden, the “ladies’ lunch”—and increasingly lighter on those bothersome policies. (Rarely are we reminded these days that the exquisitely toned arms and capable hands of Michelle Obama guided the pen that asked voters to help preserve the right to suction out the brains of newborn babies.) And if you think that’s just a common Style page phenomenon, consider that, as a former colleague once told me, as the Style page goes, so goes the nation. Today’s Style section, with its focus on women, children, and family issues in general, is quite often the seedbed of tomorrow’s hard news.

The irony is that the more obsequious the puff pieces get, the clearer it becomes that all those frightening things out there just aren’t going away. Especially that pesky problem with the dwindling newspaper subscriptions.

(Image © Ron Edmonds for the AP)

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I may go into insulin shock. Too much sugar!!!

the gushing - Reminds me of when I was little...The BEATLES just appeared on Ed Sullivan....OOoooooo! Paul especially was SO CUTE!!!!

But seriously, while I respect Mrs. Obama as a dignified intelligent woman, I have vast disagreements with her as I love black kids more than she does --- not her own of course...but the 50% of unborn black kids who are aborted! Under their limited view, My little guy (for instance) would have been a LOGICAL candidate for abortion! (Thank you yet again underage teen on the streets birth mom!)

But the fan frenzy press---the media??

Gina, I hope all you Centurions, and your great leaders are continually trying to figure out WHY supposedly mature journalists are so gushy?

What are their INNER LACKS that they seek to meet in gushing over the First Lady? And what inner lacks of Gushing Journalists are legitimate?

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