Commentary: Insulting Michelle Obama Seems to Be the New Sport of the Right

From cyberspace to insults by public figures, the first lady is increasingly targeted for slights.

Posted: 01/09/2012 12:53 PM EST
Republican Party, Michelle Obama, Barack Obama, Rush Limbaugh, politics

For some reason, this seems to be open season on Michelle Obama.

The insults keep coming, typically from Republican elected officials or conservative figures who have taken part in slights, caricatures and putdowns of the nation’s first lady.


The most recent addition to the list of offenders to join the fray is the speaker of the Kansas House of Representatives, Mike O’Neal. The Republican legislator forwarded to friends an email that referred to the president’s wife as “Mrs. Yo’ Mama.”

The email showcased a photo of Michelle Obama alongside with an image of the cartoon character the Grinch. The subject line read: “Twins separated at birth?” The email contained the message: “I’m sure you’ll join me in wishing Mrs. YoMama a wonderful, long Hawaii Christmas vacation — at our expense, of course.”


O’Neal forwarded the email to several of his Republican colleagues in the Kansas House, adding his own words, “Sorry, just had to forward the latest holiday message! I’ve had worse hair days but this is pretty funny.”

The Kansas legislator’s email came around the same time that an unflattering depiction of the first lady was making its appearance on a right-wing website. The site carried an image of Michelle Obama superimposed on a 1775 painting of Marie Antoinette by Jean-Baptiste André Gautier-Dagoty.

The caricature shows the first lady, resplendent in a lavish gown, with her hand on a globe. It carries the text: “Choosing the next vacation.”

Less than a month ago Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a Republican congressman from Wisconsin, was overheard in a Washington airport lounge saying that Mrs. Obama lectures us on eating right while she has a large posterior herself — in less polite language. He later apologized.

And that’s nothing compared to the rants by Rush Limbaugh against the first lady on his radio show. The conservative commentator told his listeners that the first lady was not svelte enough for his taste, nicknaming her “Moochelle." Then in the coded language of racial incendiary zealotry, accused her of “uppity-ism,” a term reserved historically for African-Americans perceived by whites as trying to rise above their station.

The venom that is hurled on a daily basis at the nation’s first African-American president from the right wing of the Republican Party has now found its way to the first African-American woman to preside over the White House.

But Michelle Obama is not an elected official and her public pronouncements have been on such uncontroversial issues as advocating on behalf of military families and in fighting against childhood obesity. So, the insults toward the president’s wife strike a far more insidious, treacherous maneuver to demonize the Obama presidency.

When it comes to the right wing, the Tea Party-driven faction that has influenced the Republican Party with such strident zeal, there is nothing that ignites their passion quite like their loathing of the president. And, while they’re at it, why not include his wife in the mix. It is utterly irrelevant to them that this Princeton and Harvard educated woman is one of the most celebrated figures in the country.


Michael K. Fauntroy, a professor of public policy at George Mason University, said it best. “The folks on the right hate him — and they hate her. You’re seeing a lot of dislike and anger toward someone who stands with someone they can’t stand. And every now and then, it comes out in some very public way.”


Of course, the insults are followed by apologies by the offenders. But, by then, the insults have done their damage and, thus, accomplished their aim. They have gone viral in cyberspace and have fueled the cravings of the Obamas most vehement detractors.

Once again, the nation is treated to two lessons in one. The election of America’s first Black president reveals how much the country has changed. On the other hand, so much of the unsavory discourse on the president and his wife reveals how much changing there is yet to achieve.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

 

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