The XX Factor

Americans Like Michelle Obama When She’s Formal

Hanna , though you mentioned that Rassmussen poll last week that said Michelle Obama’s favorability rating was down , according to Robin Givhan in the Washington Post , Obama’s “approval” rating is up . It’s also not entirely clear that Obama’s favorability is down, either: This Marist poll says Michelle is as well-liked as ever . Favorability is about how much Americans like her, while the approval rating measures whether people think Obama is doing a good job as first lady. I don’t know how Americans have really formed opinions on Michelle either way, because there hasn’t been much coverage of her in recent months.

Givhan says Obama hasn’t received much press because she isn’t advocating for a single cause, the way Laura Bush advocated for literacy or Lady Bird Johnson supported environmentalism. Even so, Givhan observes that Michelle’s approval rating is up because she’s been behaving the way Americans think a first lady should behave: sticking to her scripts, speaking formally behind podiums and observing the customary rituals. Hanna, you said in your last post that if people approve of a first lady, it means they don’t take her seriously. I disagree. Americans seem to take the office of First Lady very seriously, and they don’t like it when a first lady shows too much spunk or deviates from their fixed notions of appropriateness-at Jezebel, Latoya Peterson brings up this summer’s “shorts-gate ” as an example of the upset that Michelle Obama caused when people believe she is not observing the proper decorum.

All of this brings me to Michelle Obama’s appearance on the Food Network show Iron Chef America on Sunday night. She was advocating for one of her several causes by showing off the White House garden. The chefs participating in the competition all had to use food from the garden in the meals they cooked, and one of the challengers was the head White House executive chef Cristeta Comerford. Obama was somewhat wooden and heavily scripted. Her considerable charm was not on display. She was wearing a brightly-colored version of the ‘50s New Look “: a dress with a very full skirt and a prim cardigan. She looked polished, formal, and thoroughly unobjectionable. Appearances like these will help her approval rating continue to rise. After all, food is nonpartisan.