Michelle Obama is on the cover of the new issue of Vogue looking very much like an icon of American fashion. She’s sporting her new bangs and a cerulean sheath next to a vase of cherry blossoms that are just beginning to open. Vogue writer Jonathan Van Meter interviewed both her and President Obama, but it’s Mrs. Obama who’s the focus here. She dominates the word count of the article inside, and the cover readout is, “How the first lady and the president are inspiring America.”
Is she running for something? Hillary-Michelle (or Michelle-Hillary?) 2016!
OK, it hasn’t escaped our attention that “Hillary-Michelle” has been a hot search term this week. There’s no real reason why that’s so, in the sense that there isn’t a speck of news on this front. The whole notion of Hillary Rodham Clinton teaming up with Mrs. Obama in a journalists’ dream team seems driven by speculation, idle and otherwise.
But what struck us about the Vogue piece was the degree to which it promoted the first lady and examined the nature of first couplehood.
Yes, it’s a fashion magazine: None of its readers want to see those old photos of the president in dad jeans or read about why the United States is hesitant to help Syrian rebels. Instead, the article inside frames the Obamas not as the first African-American first family, but as a symbol of today’s highly involved parenting style – a husband and wife who focus after-work energy on their kids and think about how they complement each other’s personalities.
They’re helicopters parents with a Marine helicopter, in Mr. Van Meter’s telling.
“They are ... exemplars of a new paradigm – the super-involved parenting team for whom being equally engaged in the minutiae of their children’s lives is paramount,” he writes.
The thing we find interesting about this is the generational question it raises.
In the piece, the Obamas talk about the old Washington they’re not part of, the Georgetown dinner-party/Kennedy Center box/Middleburg weekend crowd. Actually, they talk about not being part of it because it no longer exists.
Congressional families don’t live in Washington anymore: Lawmakers face tremendous pressure to scurry back to districts and home states on weekends. Also, the president and top leaders of the other party don’t socialize because the city’s too partisan.
And then there's the broader reason: They also don’t socialize because parents in modern families don’t have time for that.
“The culture in Washington has changed in ways that probably haven’t been great for the way this place runs,” Mr. Obama says at one point.
As anyone who’s watched today’s sitcoms knows, the center of the modern family is the mom. The dad may be president, but he’s probably still a bumbler at heart. Thus the first lady notes that the small apartment her husband rented when he was a US senator once caught on fire.
And she draws a laugh from the press handlers assembled to watch the interview when she notes that the leader of what used to be called the free world is the sort of guy “who still boasts about, ‘This khaki pair of pants I’ve had since I was 20.’ ”
That’s what we mean when we say the piece almost seems to be pushing Mrs. Obama for something. What it does is place her at the emotional heart of the Obama presidency – in a way that even Jacqueline Kennedy, despite the huge amount of coverage she got, never was.