Michelle Obama raised an interesting question recently. As reported by Andrew Sullivan she argued that you should judge a politician by the way that he runs his family, she said that and I am quoting from Sullivan's blog here,
That one of the most important things that we need to know about the next President of the United States is, is he somebody that shares our values? Is he somebody that respects family? Is a good and decent person? So our view was that, if you can't run your own house, you certainly can't run the White House. So, so we''ve adjusted our schedules to make sure that our girls are first, so while he's traveling around, I do day trips. That means I get up in the morning, I get the girls ready, I get them off, I go and do trips, I'm home before bedtime. So the girls know that I was gone somewhere, but they don't care. They just know that I was at home to tuck them in at night, and it keeps them grounded, and, and children, the children in our country have to know that they come first. And our girls do and that's why we're doing this. We're in this race for not just our children, but all of our children.
There are obvious political reasons why she has said this- like Sullivan I tend to think its less about Hillary but more in harmony with Obama's general message. It is worth in this context stepping back a bit and analysing what Michelle Obama is actually saying which to my mind is directed less at Hillary than at her husband's potential Republican opponent in the 2008.
Republicans have for a long time been able to draw on the voters who vote for the person most like them. Both Ronald Reagen and George Bush junior were able to capture voters who thought that the President was their kind of guy. Whether this is a sensible thing to vote for or not is another issue- personally I would remark that anyone seeking to become President of the United States is likely to be an extreme individual in both ambition and hopefully intelligence, extremes which may lead to extremity in other behaviour. Leaving that aside though, the Republicans have fused the appeal of running an ordinary bloke for office with the notion that they are the protectors of ordinary blokedom, they are the protectors of marriage against those hordes of homosexuals who will invade marriage from the outside and bring down the end of civilisation, they are the protectors of America from those hordes of bra burning feminazis who want to rip off every penis they see, the protectors of the American family from liberals of any stripe and stream of thought. However illusory the danger, the Republicans have pursued a two stream strategy on this, promising protection and reminding America of the kinky Kennedys and Clinton's cigar.
Michelle Obama's statement in some ways is part of an attempt to come back on that. To assure voters that Democrats despite their far out beliefs, dangerous faith in the capacity of women to think independently and homosexuals to have stable relationships, are actually just like the American voter in other ways. Democrat after democrat has assured voters that they share their concerns, their values but extend tolerance to those with other values. John Kerry at the last election despite an impecable private life and war record is the exception which proves the rule- Kerry was someone that the American voter felt alienated by, felt estranged from, he looked as one Republican commentator said French. Michelle Obama wants her husband though to seem like any other American disabling she hopes the fears that aid the Republican party and their allies in the press.
Whether it works or not is of course another issue- its been tried before and failed. Against the present Republican field though, the Democrats may stand more of a chance. From the multiple divorcee Rudy Giuliani through divorcees John McCain and Fred Thompson and on to the Mormon Mitt Romney there is enough to suggest that the Republican candidates might fail the barbecue test and that there might be a gap for an Obama to succeed where they fail and allay the fears of the Values voters. Its worth remembering as well that this is about manner- I suspect from what I hear that Thompson would have no problem nor would McCain despite their lives, afterall Ronald Reagen astrology apart didn't, but this might represent a front that the Democrats might open on say a Giuliani. Ultimately if you want to feel like you are voting for virtue, voting for a man who could take marriage counselling from Bill Clinton may present a problem. Michelle Obama may therefore be sniping at a possible Republican contender as well as attempting to soften the blow of her husband's social liberalism.
Its interesting to see because it suggests again how central some issues of personal behaviour are to American politics- in this case family. But it also suggests what an Obama presidential candidacy would attempt with regard to winning enough of the values voters over to succeed where John Kerry failed. It might not work, it might not have the chance to work, but its an interesting indicator of the development of American politics.