Michelle Obama may be missing the point.
Responding to a new book by New York Times reporter Jodi Kantor that characterizes the first lady as an occasionally unhappy and strident White House resident, Mrs. Obama said in an interview broadcast Wednesday on CBS that people have inaccurately tried to portray her as “some kind of angry black woman” and that “I love this job. It has been a privilege from day one.”
Missing in Mrs. Obama’s self-defense, which primarily pushed back against reports of tension between her and President Obama’s top aides?
A rebuttal to ongoing criticism that the Obamas have seemed out of economic touch with a nation struggling with high unemployment and the ongoing fallout of the Great Recession.
Case in point: Ms. Kantor’s book depicts a lavish, unpublicized 2009 “Alice in Wonderland” White House Halloween party featuring director Tim Burton and actor Johnny Depp, a soiree that has drawn negative scrutiny for taking place during the deepest dip of the economic downturn.
As Nancy Reagan once learned after being blasted for buying pricey White House china during a recession, both political opponents and the general public can quickly turn against presidential glamour — at least when it comes off as less Jackie Kennedy than Marie Antoinette.
Herein, a guide to Mr. and Mrs. Obama’s top “Let Them Eat Cake” controversies:
1. The Pain in Spain
Incident: The first lady and daughter Sasha took a five-day trip to southern Spain, shopping, visiting coastal towns and lunching with the nation’s king and queen.
Criticism: Mrs. Obama and her daughter stayed at a five-star coastal resort where rooms run from $400 to almost $7,000 per night and the first lady was photographed wearing an off-the-shoulder top from pricey designer Jean Paul Gaultier, causing critics to blast the seeming show of extravagance during a period of 9.5 percent unemployment.
Infuriating fact: While the Obamas paid their own way for the trip, American taxpayers picked up the estimated $250,000 security tab.
Infuriating fact II: The White House had dubbed it “Recovery Summer.” D’oh!
Mitigating fact: Mrs. Obama reportedly went to Spain to comfort a friend whose father had recently died and whose daughter, a friend of Sasha’s, always had wanted to celebrate her birthday in the country.
Quotable: New York Daily News writer Andrea Tantaros labeled Mrs. Obama “more like a modern-day Marie Antoinette than an average mother of two” and noted that “the trip and glitzy destination contrasted with President Obama’s demonization of the rich that smacks of hypocrisy.”
Cake rating: Three slices out of five. Nothing wrong with a sun-splashed getaway, let alone consoling a friend, but Mrs. Obama’s advisers should have known better than to take a posh trip to coastal Spain — hello, envy alert! — in August, which traditionally is the slow, silly season for national news.
2. Date Fright
Incident: Mr. and Mrs. Obama jetted up to New York City for a “date night” — dinner and a Broadway play — in May, 2009.
Criticism: Conservative commentators and Republican officials slagged the president for having a flashy night on the town during a recession.
Infuriating fact: A few months earlier, executives from the struggling, bailed-out American auto industry were widely criticized for traveling to Washington hearings in expensive private jets. Why should Mr. Obama get a free pass?
Mitigating fact: Mr. and Mrs. Obama seem to have a, you know, loving marriage.
Quotable: Said Rick Santorum: “I think [Mr. Obama] has to realize that flying to New York is self-indulgent. Go down to the corner bar and have a drink, a shot and a beer. It does not matter where you go with your wife, it’s with your wife. That’s really the point.”
Cake rating: Zero slices. In a harried, fast-paced world where romance is more or less dead - sorry, did you just propose to me? I was checking my iPhone - bashing the president for being a good husband is just tacky.
3. Concerted Efforts
Incident: In May of last year, the Obamas held a “celebration of poetry and prose” party in the East Room of the White House, with Chicago rapper Common among the invited guests.
Criticism: Common — real name: Lonnie Rashid Lynn Jr. — wrote a song honoring Assata Shakur, a convicted-cop killer and fugitive former Black Panther now living in Cuba; the rapper also expressed public support for convicted murderer and controversial cause celebre Mumia Abu-Jamal. A spokesman for the New Jersey State Police union blasted the White House.
Mitigating fact: Among hip-hop fans, Common is known for thoughtful, positive and literate music; he also does charitable work with poor children in Chicago.
Quotable: “The young people who read this stuff, hear this stuff, are getting a very dangerous and deadly message,” said president of the State Troopers Fraternal Association union David Jones, referring to Common’s lyrics.
Cake rating: One cupcake. A little tone deaf when it comes to law enforcement, sure, but hardly a textbook Let Them Eat Cake moment - in fact, it was a lot less annoying from a have-and-have-not standpoint than the time the Dow plummeted on the same day that Stevie Wonder, Charles Barkley, Jay-Z, Tom Hanks, Emmitt Smith and others partied at the White House.
4. Hawaii Five-Oh No
Incident: The Obamas took a 17-day trip Hawaii at the end of last year, the family’s annual Christmas vacation.
Criticism: Actually, Mr. Obama didn’t receive much flak — well, except for a report in the National Enquirer that claimed the president wanted to take a cheaper, less extravagant trip to Camp David in Maryland, but was overruled by Mrs. Obama, whose spending “has spiraled completely out of control.”
Infuriating fact: According to the U.K. Daily Mail, the cost of a private beachfront vacation home in Kailua, Oahu is $75,000 a month; the Hawaii Reporter reported that a similar Obama vacation in 2010 cost nearly $1.5 million.
Mitigating fact: Well, the president is from Hawaii. Or is he? (Just kidding, Birtherism is so 2011).
Cake rating: One slice. Not that they’re always wrong, but seriously, it’s the National Enquirer. Besides, nobody seems to begrudge Mr. Obama visiting his childhood home - is it his fault said home is a tropical island paradise?
5. Island of Misadventure
Incident: With the White House still working on an unfinished jobs plan, Mr. Obama took a vacation to the resort island of Martha’s Vineyard last August.
Criticism: Mr. Obama arrived on the island just as the stock market tanked and opinion polls showed a large majority of Americans being unhappy with the state of the country.
Infuriating fact: Mr. Obama used two helicopters and Air Force One to get to the island; Mrs. Obama and her daughters took a separate military jet and motorcade to arrive on the island four hours before her husband.
Quotable: Sarah Palin called the president “tone deaf,” adding that she wouldn’t go on vacation if she was Mr. Obama, “especially to Martha’s Vineyard.”
Cake rating: Two and a half slices. On one hand, the two-jets thing is pretty galling for anyone who has to take the bus or carpool; on the other, Martha’s Vineyard may have a reputation as a wealthy liberal enclave, but it’s not exactly Palace of Versailles ostentatious.