Friday, August 6, 2010
Notes on Politics: Michelle in Hot Water, 'Time's' Cover Girl and Kagan to Court
While President Obama was celebrating his birthday in Chicago, his wife and their 9-year-old daughter Sasha were traveling abroad in Spain. When the Obamas' Spain itinerary was released, there wasn’t much of an outcry.
Until the photo of our First Lady, looking glamorous and chic while walking through the streets of a southern Spanish town, started getting circulated, most prominently on the Drudge Report. Until reports about the hefty vacation price-tag and the details of the trip were revealed: They were staying at a ritzy, five-star hotel -- where the rooms go for “up to . . . $2,500” -- with 40 of Michelle Obama’s friends on a get-away vacation, to which the Obamas took Air Force Two and brought along 70 Secret Service agents, costing taxpayers major bucks, reported the New York Daily News.
Given the dire economic climate in the United States – including a new report out today saying that the jobless rate is just under double-digits nationwide – this is bad timing. And Michelle Obama’s taking a whole lot of crap for it. The Daily News’ Andrea Tantaros likened the First Lady to a “modern-day Marie Antoinette on a glitzy Spanish vacation” while the peasants beg for an extension of unemployment benefits because they can’t find jobs because no one’s hiring.
“I don’t begrudge anyone rest and relaxation when they work hard. We all need downtime – the First Family included. It’s the extravagance of Michelle Obama’s trip and glitzy destination contrasted with President Obama’s demonization of the rich that smacks of hypocrisy and perpetuates a disconnect between the country and its leaders. Toning down the flash would humanize the Obamas and signify that they sympathize with the setbacks of the people they were elected to serve.”
All of this hullabaloo reminds me of the kind of flack directed at Nancy Reagan back in the day with her pricey china. Nancy certainly got rhetorically smacked around quite a bit for appearing clueless about the obvious contrast between struggling Americans weathering the early 1980s recession and her regal “Reagan red” designer duds and high-end taste.
Time Magazine did something daring. It placed an 18-year-old Afghan woman on the cover this week. What’s so button-pushing about the photo is that the woman has no nose. (She also has no ears but that fact is covered by her hair and a veil.) Why no nose? Because her husband – from whose family she had fled because they severely beat her and treated her like a slave – cut it off. He also removed her ears and left her to bleed to death.
Next to the jarring image on Time’s cover are the words, “What Happens If We Leave Afghanistan.” “. . . Afghan women fear that in the quest for a quick peace, their progress may be sidelined,” wrote Aryn Baker. Baker quoted an Afghan parliamentarian as saying, “Women’s rights must not be the sacrifice by which peace is achieved.”
The juxtaposition of the photo alongside the headline -- the if-the-United States-leaves-we'll-subject-other-girls-to-this-fate sentiment -- hasn’t set well with some folks who say that the United States didn’t embark on a war in Afghanistan to “nation build,” but now, somehow, building and fashioning this nation into something more democratic and western has become the U.S. military’s charge. The cover, with its accompanying headline, has been lambasted as manipulative pro-war advocacy. Either way, I can’t get that photo out of my head. It’s damned haunting.
Kagan to Court
After she’s sworn in as the 100th associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court by Chief Justice John Roberts this weekend, Elena Kagan will join two other female justices on the Supreme Court, giving this court more estrogen than it’s ever had.
“Will three finally be the magic number that effects real change for women in terms of pay parity, access to education and sexual harassment in the U.S.?” asked Meghan Casserly in Forbes.com.
“A study from Catalyst in 2007 suggests it will. In their study of the U.S.’s 500 largest companies, Catalyst found that the point where women effect change on corporate boards is three. Three women on the board proved to be the point where return on equity, return on sales and return on investment capital saw the biggest improvement. The bottom line: stronger than average performance results when at least three women serve.”
I’m just hopeful that there will soon be a day when a woman being nominated to the Supreme Court -- or to a corporate board for that matter -- won’t be something historic. It’ll just be a run-of-the-mill PR announcement.
Image credits: Torres/AP via the New York Daily News and Jodi Bieber/Time Magazine.