The XX Factor

Should Michelle Obama Be Home Making Her Husband a Martini?

Maureen Dowd’s column yesterday chastised Michelle Obama for gallivanting off to Spain for an expensive vacation with her daughters while the President had to spend his birthday in Chicago with Oprah. “President Obama’s job is ridiculously hard,” Dowd notes, “But at moments when you think Michelle might make her husband toast, or better yet a martini, she’s often off on a girls’ trip.” Dowd thinks it is terrible PR for the First Lady to be taking off like this, because “in politics and pop culture, optics are all.”

But do Americans actually care that Michelle is taking this Spain trip, or is the outrage purely from Obama opponents in the media? Dowd makes these pronouncements based on criticism of Michelle Obama’s Spain trip from New York Daily News blogger and Fox contributor Andrea Tantaros, who called Michelle “Marie Antoinette.” There’s another New York Times article in addition to Dowd’s discussing the criticism of the Spain trip, which again, seems to all stem from Tantaros’s single blog post. However, there is very little evidence that people (beyond the aforementioned Ms. Tantaros) much care about Michelle Obama’s trip in the first place. Anna North at Jezebel has a nice round up of the truth stretching that happens when writers are trying to inspire anti-Obama vacation populist rage in their readers . Politico ran a story today about how popular Michelle Obama remains , despite her husband’s plummeting approval ratings (as of July 22, 66 percent of Americans viewed Michelle Obama favorably ). Even many of the Daily News commenters stand up for Michelle Obama. “I believe Ms. Tantaros has done an excellent job in creating a storm out of nothing,” remarks one commenter, who describes himself as a “political atheist” who thinks both parties are useless.

Though I don’t believe that many Americans much care about the Obamas’ vacation habits, Dowd’s column does bring up what a thankless role the first lady is. She begins the column by saying that Michelle’s “critics used to paint her as a scary Marxist. Now they cast her as a spoiled princess.” The conclusion I draw from that is that no matter what Michelle Obama does, some people will hate her for it, and so this princess stuff is just as baseless as the Marxist bashing. But the conclusion Dowd draws is that Michelle should be home with her husband sharing her substantial “familial warmth” and acting like a more traditional first lady rather than spending a few days in Spain with her daughters. Considering how embattled Obama is right now with the latest unemployment numbers , I don’t think that Michelle’s being home making her husband toast or mopping his brow is going to help his optics-or necessarily his emotional core-one way or the other.

Photograph of Michelle and Sasha Obama by Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images.