Barack and Michelle Obama: Mr. and Mrs. Frustrated, Hopeful Every American

In previous presidential contests, the incumbent and his team were roundly shunned by presumed successors of the same party. This year is different.
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Well debate three of the seemingly endless 2016 presidential race is behind us. To borrow an observation from the great Cheers character Norm Peterson: Donald Trump. Can’t live with him….pass the beer nuts.

Reams of electronic paper have been filled with horrified recaps of last night’s latest Trumpian exercise in the desecration of our democracy. There are some clever memes and hash tags moving through the Internet around the orange one’s latest sound bites: “bad hombres”, “nasty woman” and my personal favorite “You’re the puppet!” Through it all, Hillary Clinton continued to practice her mastery of Prince-level side eye, while dressed in a smart white pant suit that reminded the country she came to win with full consciousness of the suffragettes and civil rights activists who paved her way. The evening was equal parts mortifying and inspiring…pretty much encapsulating this entire cycle.

President Barack Obama’s half-brother Malik was in the debate audience, the invited guest of Donald Trump. This would have been quite the incendiary act if POTUS actually gave a shit. An article in The Washington Post reports that though the siblings were once close, they fell out circa 2013 over the usual family divider – competitive jealousy. Malik’s newfound bond with Trump is described as an alliance of men, “habitually opportunistic about the limelight.”

Try as I might, I couldn’t find a public comment from Obama about the specter of his estranged brother sitting in support of a grave human threat to our democracy. It seems he has bigger fish to fry. Oh yeah, and he doesn’t give a shit. About family pettiness, the birther movement that brought Trump to political prominence or any ad hominem personal attacks. This mess of an election riles POTUS and his equal partner FLOTUS only for the danger Donald Trump’s words and actions pose to the country and the American people. This power couple, Hillary Clinton’s two most ardent and eloquent supporters, have provided concrete examples in recent weeks of their commitment to transcending the personal (though not without passion and feeling) to speak universally.

Earlier this week, before Donald Trump stood on a national stage and told debate moderator Chris Wallace he’ll keep us in “suspense” regarding his acceptance of November 8 voting results, POTUS strongly urged the Republican standard bearer to get real and grow up. At a news conference in the White House Rose Garden, Obama made an example of his own administrative challenges and even temperament to ridicule Trump’s preliminary sour grapes. He said, “If you start whining before the game’s even over…if whenever things are going badly for you and you lose, you start blaming somebody else, then you don’t have what it takes to be in this job, because there are times when things don’t go our way — or my way.”

Last week the President’s stunningly brilliant wife Michelle Obama articulated the exhausted, angry and indignant emotions of all thinking American women (regardless of party affiliation) in the wake of the Access Hollywood live mic scandal. Never once mentioning Trump by name, her voice often breaking with genuine, captivating feeling, Mrs. Obama connected with a rapt audience:

“I listen to all of this and I feel it so personally, and I’m sure that many of you do, too, particularly the women…The shameful comments about our bodies, the disrespect of our intelligence. The belief you can do anything to a woman? It is cruel. It’s frightening. And the truth is, it hurts. It hurts.”

As a feminist, American political process devotee and humanist, I’m not afraid to admit I’ve wept like a baby at several key points during this election cycle. Hillary Clinton’s proud stride onto the DNC 2016 stage to accept the nomination as the first female presidential candidate of our two-party system was one of them. Michelle Obama’s beautiful, achingly relatable Cleveland remarks, which got to the heart of every offensive element of Donald Trump’s systematic and degrading misogyny, was another. Like so many, I can’t wait to hear what she says in the sudden battleground state of Arizona today.

I’ve been around long enough to remember presidential contests where the incumbent and his team were roundly shunned by presumed successors of the same party. Al Gore dodged Bill Clinton as much as possible in 2000, and in 2008, John McCain wisely steered clear of Dubya and his war-mongering, deficit busting tenure. This year is different. Because we have a sitting President empowered by the highest approval ratings of his second term, who cares about the progress through which he has led the American people and the threatening menace posed by an authoritarian demagogue aspiring to the White House. And he is married to a partner of equal rhetorical gifts and passion for her gender, our children and our country.

Hillary Clinton is going to make a fine Commander in Chief. She is smart, tough, experienced, empathetic and practical. But damn those Obamas are something else, aren’t they?

Becky Sarwate is the current President of the Illinois Woman’s Press Association, founded in 1885, as well as Recording Secretary for the National Federation of Press Women. She is a national award-winning journalist, blogger, newsletter editor and theater critic. Becky lives in Chicago with her partner Bob and their menagerie of pets. Keep up with her at beckysarwate.com.
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