Last week, I had to look up the word “solipsistic,” used by a British columnist in describing Michelle Obama’s generosity when UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown and his wife were in Washington, D.C. I’ve never seen a single word so perfectly sum up a woman, or a family, so darned well.
Go ahead. Look it up yourself. Solipsism. Then, we’ll move on.
Yesterday, there was a great piece in The Wall Street Journal about Mrs. Obama’s emerging and evolving role as First Lady, and how the press coverage of that role–a “new-found” of welcome focus on military families–neglected the grace and selflessness displayed daily by former First Lady Laura Bush. An excerpt:
By choosing Fort Bragg for her first official trip outside the capital last Thursday, Michelle Obama signaled that she will use her position as First Lady to promote one of America’s most deserving causes: our military families. Plainly the families loved it. Just look at the smiles on those children as she read them “The Cat in the Hat.”
So it was just a little disconcerting the next morning to hear the First Lady explain how she came to this issue during last year’s campaign. “I think I was like most Americans,” she told ABC News. “Pretty oblivious to the life of military families. Sort of taking it for granted.”
Perhaps Mrs. Obama did take these families for granted. Surely, however, it’s extraordinary to suggest that “most Americans” did the same. Certainly not the McCains, the Bidens and the Palins, each of whom had at least one son in uniform. More to the point, the presidential campaign in which she says the issue started “taking shape” for her came nearly seven years into a war that has inspired millions across America to step forward to help our troops.
The informal help includes everyday things such as providing meals or rides for a neighbor or church member whose spouse has been deployed overseas. The Web site AmericaSupportsYou.mil lists many of the more formal initiatives, which range from sending CARE packages overseas to helping homefront spouses find jobs. Under the category “military family support,” the Web site provides links to more than 200 programs or organizations.
If the ABC interview was a one-off thing, it would be easy to overlook. But these days the reporting seems to reflect an assumption that if the Obamas haven’t done something, nobody else has, either. Certainly the Washington Post did not challenge the First Lady’s social secretary when she said, “one idea Michelle had was to have an event for military families — here they are sacrificing so much for the country and many of them probably have never been invited to the White House.”
This uncritical reportage does Laura Bush an injustice. In hundreds of ways — picnics on the South Lawn, fund-raising for scholarships for the children of sailors on the USS Texas, unheralded visits with the wounded and families of the fallen, the work she did for military kids under her Helping America’s Youth initiative — Mrs. Bush showed our troops and their loved ones how close they were to her heart.
Once again, we see Michelle Obama’s solipsism, on display for all to see like the First Lady’s buff arms on a cold January morning in the nation’s capital. Unlike what happened with regard to the flap surrounding the lackluster and thoughtless gifts given to the Brown family, however, the press seems more than happy to embrace it.
Everything this family does has been, and will continue to be, historic. Even if the act itself is not, because it involves the Obama family, it will be ground-breaking and, in covering it, the press will neglect everything done before. We see it with regard to coverage of the president’s approach to the economic crisis — even though he is employing many of the same practices used by former President Bush and Congress during the lead-up to the crisis (see TARP and government intervention in banks), the press looks at Obama’s movements as revolutionary and Bush’s actions as the cause of the problem.
Solipsism. Said quickly, it kind of sounds like “solar system.” In this case, however, it is the Obama family, and not the sun, which stands at the center of everything we know.