Michelle Obama is one accomplished woman. A graduate of Princeton and Harvard Law School, she’s worked for a top-notch law firm and for the city of Chicago. Now she’s a high-powered hospital executive, a firebrand on the stump, and a fixture of various magazines’ “Most Influential” lists—in short, she’s someone to be reckoned with. Why, then, does she need special protection from her critics? Ever since Michelle declared, “For the first time in my adult lifetime I’m really proud of my country,” conservatives have been questioning her patriotism. This week her husband, Barack, announced that they were way out of line. “These folks should lay off my wife,” he said. “If they think that they’re going to try to make Michelle an issue in this campaign, they should be careful—because that I find unacceptable.”
I’m afraid that Obama is in for a rude awakening. For better or worse, political wives have always been fair game. Back in the 19th century, Andrew Jackson’s wife, Rachel, was pilloried mercilessly, possibly even driven to an early grave, for marrying Old Hickory before her divorce was final. In more recent times, Eleanor Roosevelt was caricatured as a busybody, Nancy Reagan as a profligate spender, Hillary Clinton as a ruthless shadow president, and Teresa Heinz Kerry as a loose cannon. And Michelle Obama isn’t being singled out this campaign season; Cindy McCain is also coming under fire, for refusing to release her tax returns. So relax, Barack; your wife is in good company. Besides, if she doesn’t get used to taking her lumps now, how will she ever survive in the White House?