Saturday, 13 September 2008

Armpiece or Ally?

I am not really "into" American politics, but a lot of the topics transgress the daily political business and offer an enlightening aspect of wider social and ethical questions, which I find important not just in an American context. Case in point: The role of the wife of a politician. Armpiece or ally?

In his blog entry of August 26, The woman of wide shoulders, from the city of the big shoulders, Auster writes about Michelle Obama:
She didn't look like a woman, she looked like a male body builder. As I said in the other entry, how could her advisors have failed to see this obvious problem and gotten her to wear a different dress? The below photo captures something of what I'm talking about, but fails to convey how alarmingly wide Michelle's shoulders looked on TV (which can be seen here). However, the photo brings out something equally unsettling, which I didn't notice on TV. Look at the bunched-up musculature around her neck. I've never seen anything like it in a normal female. It's like the excessive muscle development you see in a male body builder:

To which I replied:
I was traveling by car yesterday, and as I possess neither a radio or a TV, this is always an opportunity to touch base with the media. I was stunned when I heard the following statement by Michelle Obama: "He is incredibly smart and he is very able to deal with a strong woman, which is one of the reasons why he can be president, because he can deal with me." To me, "strong woman" seems, since the advent of feminism, nothing but an euphemism for "loud-mouthed, pretentious bitch," and even more so when applied to oneself, but that aside: So the man is fit to rule the last remaining superpower because he is able to deal with a certain woman? Why did nobody laugh Michelle out of the room? But in a society so much degraded already by feminism, this was apparently just another normal and comprehensible remark to make.

As a European, I have difficulties with the emotional American approach to politics. When I grew into adulthood in the late Sixties and early Seventies, here, the wife of a politician was kept firmly out of the limelight, so it remained for a long time and although we are getting there, we have not quite reached American standards--yet. I remember when I heard the wife of Joe Lieberman, then running mate for Al Gore, referring to her husband publicly as "the love of my life," that I was actually deeply shocked for two reasons, first because that is a statement which ought to be made only within a very small and very intimate circle of friends (if at all outside the bedroom) and second because I couldn't fathom what such a statement was supposed to say about Mr. Lieberman. People are known to make the most awful choices when falling in love.

The American cult focusing on the wife and family of a politician is juvenile and distracts from the issues he is supposed to address. If a woman has political ambitions she ought to realize them as such, not as an accessory matter (which is what all those "strong women" are) of her husband. Besides, if we grant a wife any political importance the outcome is undemocratic and uncontrollable or at least that is how I see it. To put it bluntly: the wife of a president ought to make a good impression, smile sweetly and help her husband in social matters, mainly by keeping her mouth firmly shut.

But back to Michelle Obama. Am I alone in noticing how unlovely she is? That is the word that comes to mind, because she is far from ugly. She may be not particularly bright in spite of her academic credentials, she may have arrived where she is as an affirmative action token, but one thing she is for sure: as hard as nails. One look at her face ought to be enough to see that. And she is, too, the ace in the sleeve of her husband because she is both, black AND a woman and thus doubly untouchable.
If I read the fawning assessments of Michelle Obama, I feel a strong urge to throw up. The chickens of feminism have come home to roost.
To which Auster replied:
Making the family of the nominee central in the campaign and especially in the national conventions, having the nominee's wife and children deliver personal testimonials as to what a fine man he is, is a mark of the advanced decadence of liberal democracy. This is a development over the last 20 years or so. It's an expression of the fact that we have lost the public understanding of politics, the understanding that there is a public sphere as distinct from the private sphere, and that we behave differently in the public sphere than we do in the private sphere. For Hadassah Lieberman to tell the world that her husband is the love of her life is a violation both of her private relationship with her husband, and of the public sphere of politics.
Absurd as it may be, if a politician happens to live long enough and to have more than one wife over time, he may even revise his style. Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who, for all the many years he was in the center of public attention, strictly kept his family out of the limelight (this is neither an endorsement of the politics not of the person of that man, but just a fact) and whose deceased first wife was a paragon of wifely virtue (and much derided for it), now makes an ass of himself and a mess of his status as an "elder statesman" by publicly exchanging sweet nothings with Wifey II, 34 years his junior.

To answer the question: It's neither armpiece nor ally. It's the women who set the tone and men follow like sheep.

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