WashPost Style Page Delivers Sloppy Wet Kiss to Obamas Over Hug Photo

As we've noted time and again, the Style section of the Washington Post has been reliably gaga over President Obama and liberal-friendly causes and campaigns. Today's Style page was no exception, with its front page dominated by an Obama for America photo that has been widely retweeted on Twitter and "liked" on Facebook.

"Snapshot of an equal, modern marriage," gushes the headline. "Loving image of Obamas is embraced by social media," added a subheader for Philip Kennicott's "Critic's Notebook" feature. "Who is embracing whom in that photograph of the Obamas that went viral on election night?" Kennicott asked in his lead sentence, laying the groundwork for a gushy item on how the Obamas exemplify a perfectly equal marital union, unlike, apparently, stodgy traditionalist, Republican first couples of yore (emphasis mine):


Unlike many images of political marriage in which the man lays claim to his wife through a symbolically possessive gesture — touching her shoulder, raising her hand up or kissing — the embrace between these two people seems mutual. The first lady is, among many other things, a big woman, famed for her well-toned arms, and in this image of hugging, she’s giving as good as she gets.

The president, if anything, seems to need this hug and appears almost dependent and vulnerable. The obligatory masculine markers of leadership — resolve, self-sufficiency and emotional equanimity — dissolve into the obliterating communion of two people lost in their own love world.

It’s impossible to know the reality behind this image, whether the president and the first lady are indeed in love in the way that photograph suggests. Perhaps this is just another very successful variation on the carefully staged depiction of love that is mandatory for political success. But regardless of the reality, that variation is significant. The photograph strongly suggests an ideal of mutuality in marriage, unencumbered by older ideas of possession and obedience that still hold sway in some deeply traditionalist religions.

Kennicott concluded on an odd note that worked in a reference to the culture's changing views on gay marriage:

Among the many things that will come with a broader societal acceptance of same-sex marriage — which won at the ballot box for the first time since it emerged as a wedge issue in the 2004 reelection of President George W. Bush — is an extraordinary boon for straight men. The strictures of masculinity will likely fade as the fear of homosexuality abates, leaving more room for individual men to define their own notions of masculinity. That this photo became so popular at this particular moment suggests that we may be parsing the broader cultural implications of this election for a long time to come.

Or, maybe, call me crazy, but just maybe a photo of President Obama hugging his wife simply went viral because he has lots of adoring fans on Facebook. Exploring the "broader cultural implications" is just an excuse for liberal writers like Kennicott to wax philosophical on broader themes.

After all, Kennicott is the Post staffer who was transfixed by the "vibrant urbanism" of the Occupy D.C. camp, when the rest of us just saw a bunch of radicals squatting in an urban park and destroying the vegetation along with the peace.

Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is a writer living in New Carrollton, Md.