From Lady Di to Michelle Obama

In the midst of the worst economic crisis since the 1930’s, President Barack Obama's approval ratings remain remarkably high, with respondents consistently saying that he “cares about people like me.” A large share of the credit for this should go to his wife.

NEW YORK– In one week, Michelle Obama sat for a formal White House portrait, dressed in somber, tailored clothes; posed for a snazzy People magazine cover, dressed in a slightly down-market, hot-pink lace outfit that showed plenty of skin; let the national media know that the First Family would be getting its new puppy from a rescue shelter; and had her press office mention casually that “secretaries and policy makers” had been invited for popcorn and movies at the White House.

That same week, in the midst of the worst economic crisis since the 1930’s, a national poll found that support for President Barack Obama was remarkably high, with respondents consistently saying that he “cares about people like me.”

These two phenomena are closely related. Almost from her first appearance in the public eye, Michelle Obama has used clothing, etiquette, and such cues as where she shops and entertains to send out a subtle but radical message to American voters and to the world. For the first time since the days of Andrew Jackson, the White House is aggressively “democratizing” the highest office in the land, and symbolically inviting in the common man – and now the common woman.

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