Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Me Pulling My Hair Out

In trying to answer the deep, deep question why the only regular political columnist at the New York Times who also happens to be a woman, Maureen Dowd, writes this:

Usually, I love the dynamics of a cheeky woman puncturing the ego of a cocky guy.

I liked it in '40s movies, and I liked it with Katie Couric and Bryant Gumbel, and Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis in "Moonlighting."

So why don't I like it with Michelle and Barack?

I wince a bit when Michelle Obama chides her husband as a mere mortal — a comic routine that rests on the presumption that we see him as a god.

The tweaking takes place at fundraisers, where Michelle wants to lift the veil on their home life a bit and give the folks their money's worth.

At the big Hollywood fund-raiser for Senator Obama in February, Michelle came on strong.

"I am always a little amazed at the response that people get when they hear from Barack," she told the crowd at the Beverly Hilton, as her husband stood by looking like a puppy being scolded, reported Hud Morgan of Men's Vogue. "A great man, a wonderful man. But still a man. ...

"I have some difficulty reconciling the two images I have of Barack Obama. There's Barack Obama the phenomenon. He's an amazing orator, Harvard Law Review, or whatever it was, law professor, best-selling author, Grammy winner. Pretty amazing, right?

"And then there's the Barack Obama that lives with me in my house, and that guy's a little less impressive. For some reason this guy still can't manage to put the butter up when he makes toast, secure the bread so that it doesn't get stale, and his 5-year-old is still better at making the bed than he is."

She said that the TV version of Barack Obama sounded really interesting and that she'd like to meet him sometime.

Many people I talked to afterward found Michelle wondrous. But others worried that her chiding was emasculating, casting her husband — under fire for lacking experience — as an undisciplined child.

The whole column is an exploration on the question what makes a good helpmeet out of a woman, how best to prop up the fragile ego of a husband, and how not to come across looking like an emasculating bitch in this age of late patriarchy.

These may all be questions which Dowd wrestles with, every single day, but they are about electoral politics only peripherally, and only in the sense of what wingnuts want to read. Or those who still have trouble with imagining equality of women and men.