Michelle Obama and Jill Biden were booed at a NASCAR race in Florida on Sunday. As pundits argue over whether the crowd was disrespectful to the first and second ladies, or simply expressing its displeasure with Obama administration policies, we have this question: Is this the first time such a thing has happened?
No it isn’t, as you might have guessed. First ladies and ex-first ladies are political figures in their own right, and sometimes they get an unpleasant reception.
First lady Hillary Rodham Clinton got booed in Seattle in 1994 while making a speech promoting her (doomed) health-care initiative, for instance. When she ran for president herself, the then-Senator Clinton occasionally was heckled from the left – on June 20, 2007, attendees at the liberal Take Back America conference booed when she said the US military had succeeded in Iraq, while the Iraqi government had failed to make tough decisions about its future.
Clinton has even been booed in absentia. Sarah Palin once got jeers just for saying something positive about Clinton’s role in the Senate at a 2008 campaign stop in Pennsylvania for the McCain-Palin ticket.
(Yes, we know Ms. Palin herself was booed when she appeared at a "Dancing With the Stars" TV show to support her daughter Bristol. Just thought we’d mention that even though she obviously does not fit the first lady category.)
But all these instances, including the recent one involving Mrs. Obama, were not nearly as serious as what faced Lady Bird Johnson in the fall of 1964.
President Lyndon Johnson had signed the Civil Rights Act a few months earlier, and he did not think it would be wise to campaign in the South himself. So his first lady went instead.
When her train crossed into northern Florida, a bomb threat caused the Secret Service to carefully inspect a long bridge along the line. Boats underneath and helicopters overhead watched the train as it passed. A separate engine went first – to detonate the bomb, if there was one.
In all, she gave 47 speeches to crowds totaling about 500,000 people.
“I am aware that there are those who would exploit [the South’s] past troubles to their own advantage. But I do not believe the majority of the South wants any part of old bitterness,” she said on Oct. 9, 1964, in her final address before a big crowd in New Orleans.