By Karin Caifa in Washington, D.C
Michelle Obama kicked off her gig co-hosting ABC's "The View" this morning with fist bumps all around the table (even for the show's resident Republican Elisabeth Hasselbeck.) Stopping by the women's daytime talk fest is at the center of what appears to be a general election "makeover" for the wife of the Democrats' presumptive presidential nominee. And it has nothing to do with her wardrobe (because, frankly, the bipartisan consensus is that her simple sheaths and Jackie O. jumbo pearls are fabulous.) Today's New York Times front page says Michelle is seeking "a new introduction" to voters as we head into a long summer of general election campaigning. The "makeover" is a response to negative media coverage, including a recent cover of Time that bluntly asked, "Will Michelle Obama Hurt Barack in November?"
The grueling, contentious Democratic primary battle put Michelle Obama in the public eye far more than her Republican counterpart Cindy McCain, and not always in a flattering light. A Pew Research Center study of news coverage from January 1 through June 15 found Michelle Obama the topic of 102 news stories. Cindy McCain appeared in just 28. The study also found that those who have heard about Mrs. Obama have gotten a negative earful: 26 percent of those surveyed characterized the coverage as "mostly negative," as opposed to 7 percent of those who'd describe coverage of Cindy McCain the same way.
As the Obama campaign shifts into general election mode, they're aware of the negative attention Michelle could attract from the opposition. Conservatives have sought to portray Michelle as unpatriotic, stemming from February comments in Wisconsin, where she told the crowd that her husband's candidacy was, "the first time in my adult life I am really proud of my country." The conservative publication the National Review made her their cover girl, sporting an angry scowl, and tagged her "Mrs. Grievance." Blogger Michelle Malkin called her Barack's "bitter half."
Michelle Obama says she isn't taking it personally. "In this media age, where the internet is so pervasive, and there's 24-hour newscasts, I think I fill up space," she told "The View " co-hosts this morning. "I think that's a part of it. I also think it's competition, that's what politics at some point has become, and I think everybody's a little sick of that. I think people are kind of tired of the tit-for-tat."
On May 18, 1992, the New York Times featured a profile of another lawyer-turned-potential first lady, the same age that Mrs. Obama is now, who was also adjusting to the scrutiny and the criticisms of the presidential campaign trail. The Times' Maureen Dowd described a spouse who, "... has stepped into the eye of the stormy debate about the role of women in society and in politics, and about the image of feminism. And the 44-year-old lawyer seems a bit at a loss over how to deal with all the powerful negative and positive reactions she has unleashed."
That other 44-year-old lawyer? Hillary Clinton.
Obama had gracious words for her husband's former foe today. "Hillary Clinton, as she's said, has created 18 million cracks on a ceiling, and we need to keep pushing it and pushing it, because it's only until women like her step out, take the risks, take those hits and it's painful, and it's hurtful," Obama acknowledged. "But she's taken them so my girls, when they come along, they won't have to feel it as badly."
Asked whether treatment of Clinton's historic presidential run was sexist, Obama could just as easily have been talking about her own dealings with the media. "People aren't used to strong women, and I think there are times we don't even know how to talk about them."
As her husband pursues his own historic run for the White House, Michelle Obama can expect to be talked about quite a bit.