USA Today Oozes Over Michelle Obama

December 22nd, 2008 8:04 AM

Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz found a story in USA Today that qualified for the "Obama Adulation Watch." Reporter Maria Puente oozed over incoming First Lady Michelle Obama on Friday as the black Jackie Kennedy, and insisted the Obamas undermined the conservative "caricature" of her "through widely viewed television interviews in which they demonstrated warmth, affection, humor -- and normality." It began:

You could call it "Obamalot."

That makes some sense. The incoming presidential couple, Barack and Michelle Obama, bear superficial similarities to John and Jacqueline Kennedy of the 1960s "Camelot" White House — charisma, vigor, her fondness for sheath dresses, for instance.

But maybe the most obvious similarity is that many Americans are as excited and curious about her as they are about him.

"People will be riveted," predicts Donna Brazile, Democratic strategist and CNN analyst. "She is going to set a record in the amount of attention she will receive.

President Kennedy once jokingly introduced himself, during a press-frenzied visit to France, as "the man who accompanied Jacqueline Kennedy to Paris." Someday, the president-elect may have occasion to say the same.

Puente claimed "Expectations are dizzingly high" that she'll do an excellent job, and she's already a historic figure:

She is, after all, unprecedented: the first African-American first lady, the first one who is a descendant of slaves, the second-youngest since the 19th century, one of the best educated (Princeton and Harvard), and the most career-oriented up to now (as a lawyer, municipal official and hospital executive).

She and her husband remain not entirely familiar to most Americans, and some people may still be influenced by the rhetoric of campaign opponents who depicted her as an unpatriotic and angry black woman nursing racial grievances despite her successful life story.

Since the Nov. 4 election, the couple have undermined that caricature through widely viewed television interviews in which they demonstrated warmth, affection, humor — and normality.

Mirroring the kind of press Hillary Clinton initially received, dipping heavily into the most effusive testimony of friends, Puente insisted she was a "girlfriendy" kind of gal:

In contrast to Barack Obama's cool, professorial image, friends say Michelle is the kind of "girlfriendy" gal with whom you'd like to share a glass of wine and a leisurely lunch.

"She often added spice to a candidate who seemed so disciplined," Brazile says. "While he was professorial, she would shake it up a bit. She provided the emotion, the seasoning and the spices in that campaign."

Her pals characterize Michelle as smart, passionate and irrepressible. She's highly organized, comfortable with authority and keenly aware that although her own family is prosperous, many of the families she grew up with in South Side Chicago are not. She and her husband share a desire to do something about that, Mundy says in her biography.

"She's a down-to-earth woman with consummate self-confidence and excellent judgment, complete integrity, and capable of keeping her kids grounded while being a helpmate and adviser to her husband," says Barbara Engel, who knows the Obamas from the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago, where they live. "I think Michelle is going to make history as first lady. ... She will keep it real."