America is going to expect a lot from Barack Obama over his next four to eight years as president. And a lot will also be expected of his wife, who will essentially be doing her job backwards. And in heels. Well, maybe not so much. But she won’t be getting paid.
Should we remedy this situation? Hell no. Why’s that? Well, let’s start here. Barack Obama focused much of his campaign – and his presidency going forward – on a call to charity work. Should his wife really be the first First Lady who refuses to donate her time to better the nation?While their husbands’ fate may burn in the polls, first ladies have the luxury of positive public opinion. Just look at Laura Bush’s approval ratings. In January of 2006, when the war was decimating her husband’s standing in the polls, Laura had an 82 percent approval rating according to a USA Today/Gallop poll. Why? Because First Ladies are unelected figure heads. That’s not to discount the voluminous and often very important work that they do. But the charitable status of a First Lady gives her the freedom to do what she pleases (though the pressures of public life often dictate that her day go towards helping out the country).
Let’s forgo all the pesky issues of implementation of a salary for Michelle Obama and the precedent that would be set for all those state and local governments that have spent decades trying to get officials’ spouses out of the government coffers. We haven’t elected Michelle Obama, though surely her presence at Barack Obama’s side has helped his political career. Needless to say, any salary paid her by the U.S. government would be a pittance compared to the book advances and speaking fees that she will acquire as a current or former First Lady.
A salary would be mostly a public gesture. So why would you go looking for ways that people can turn against the First Lady? Because her time is donated, the First Lady has the liberty to take on whatever tasks she deems most important and create her own pet projects. Hillary Clinton got into enough trouble for taking a proactive role during the Clinton administration (though she later catapulted her work there into the Senate and State Department). Imagine what would have happened if she were paid a salary by the American people!
Mrs. Obama is certain to take an active role in the public sphere over the next four to eight years, but it will be exponentially simpler to do that when her issues are perceived as her own interests rather than paid responsibilities. Especially when you’re basing a large part of your publicity campaign on encouraging Americans to help out their fellow man. In speeches, Michelle says as much.
“We left corporate America, which is a lot of what we’re asking young people to do. Don’t go into corporate America. You know, become teachers. Work for the community. Be social workers. Be a nurse. Those are the careers that we need, and we’re encouraging our young people to do that. But if you make that choice, as we did, to move out of the money-making industry into the helping industry, then your salaries respond.”
And on Tuesday in his inaugural address, Obama continued to encourage Americans to help out their fellow man.
“For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter’s courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent’s willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.”
How do you ask people what they can do for their country when you’re asking the country to start paying your wife for something that’s been done for free for two centuries?