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The never ending racist assault on Michelle Obama

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

The never ending racist assault on Michelle Obama

There are two relentless constants in the manic drive by GOP ultra-conservatives, Tea Party leaders and followers, and unreconstructed bigots to make President Barack Obama a one-term president.

One is their drumbeat, non-stop barrage of racist depictions, slurs and digs at Obama. The other is their drumbeat, non-stop barrage of racist depictions, slurs, and digs at first lady Michelle Obama.

The latest is the outrageously racist depiction of Michelle on the right-wing website Gateway Pundit as a grotesquely muscular armed Marie Antoinette. The racist caricature was based on a 1775 portrait by 18th century French painter Jean-Baptiste André Gautier d’Agoty. The painting hangs in the Palace of Versailles outside Paris.

The racist comparison of Michelle to Antoinette is another in the endless knocks that Michelle lives an imperious and luxury lifestyle all supposedly at taxpayer expense. This is code language for an African American that’s “uppity.” And if that African American happens to be the first lady, the fury-level soars and the slanders against her fly even hotter and heavier.

The racial assault on Michelle began virtually the instant that Obama declared his presidential candidacy in 2007. The first salvo was an out of context remark in which Michelle allegedly questioned her faith in America.

This set off bells and whistles that she might be the perfect surrogate punching bag for then candidate Obama. The Obama campaign sensed the danger and tactfully made sure that Michelle would play the low-key and supportive role in her husband’s candidacy that presidential candidate’s wives traditionally play.

Once in the White House, that quickly changed. She got pilloried for her push of the failed Chicago Olympic bid, and later for uttering a few words on health care reform. Her shopping excursions, her vacation in Spain and her workout routine all became fodder for political sniping, gossip and ridicule.

A viral e-mail buzzed around the net and blogs for a time that pounded her for her high-salaried and top-heavy staff. A British tabloid even engaged in malicious mischief when it claimed that Michelle’s undergraduate thesis written in 1985 with the hardly incendiary title of “Princeton-Educated Blacks and the Black Community” was an open call for black militancy.

That fizzled, but the jibes, taunts and racist cartoons on the blogs and websites never stopped. The aim is to firmly link Michelle in the public’s mind as both a power behind the White House throne and to identify her with the alleged bad policies of Obama.

The more honest GOP strategists even said as much when Michelle gave them even more fodder when she sent out an e-mail to friends and supporters touting the selection of Charlotte for the 2012 Democratic Convention. Her carefully chosen words touting the city as “vibrant, diverse and full of opportunity” were about as Chamber of Commerce-safe and tame as could be.

But that was more than enough for the GOP to spring back on the attack. After all, said one GOP critic, conventions are partisan and political and therefore for a first lady to utter a word about the convention makes her by that logic fair game for attack for playing partisan politics.

The juvenile attacks on Michelle may turn out to be child’s play compared to what the big, nasty GOP hit machine is capable of rolling out. The avalanche of hit below the belt, name-calling ads and attacks that the GOP presidential candidates have unloaded on each other give strong hint, if hint be needed, that the GOP will unleash its full arsenal of gossip, innuendo, rumor, slander and outright lies against Obama when the presidential campaign kicks into high-gear later in the year.

Michelle almost certainly will figure into the GOP game plan. Obama’s GOP presidential opponent will stay above the fray. He will not utter a word about Obama, and will publicly renounce any racial innuendos about the Obamas. Michelle for her part will also stay above the fray. She will continue to work hard to improve the health and welfare of children and families, and give support to military families. But that won’t stop the attacks.

The GOP will use its endless back-door channel surrogates of bloggers, right-wing talk show gabbers, and tea party operatives to slur and slander Michelle to sow even more doubt and discord about President Obama’s policies and, by extension, him.

In the past the rules of political engagement have been clear. Presidents were fair game for any and every type of fair or gutter attack. Their wives and families, though, were off-limits. But as the wife of the most politically assailed president in modern times, the rules of the political game have been smashed.

Michelle will continue to be an inviting target of racial slander simply because she is who she is. And that’s certainly not Marie Antoinette.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst.