The Magazine

Obama Family Values

From The Scrapbook

Mar 5, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 24 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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The Scrapbook was a little surprised to learn, in the Washington Post last week, that the Obama reelection apparatus is featuring imagery of the entire First Family—Barack, -Michelle, Malia, Sasha—in its forthcoming advertising campaigns. “In the months to come,” writes the Post reporter, “political strategists expect to see the first family used as a political asset.” The Post then goes on to quote the ubiqui-tous Democratic pollster Celinda Lake: “The value of the family is enormous. The more you know this family and the more you think of Barack Obama in these terms, the harder it is to vilify him.”

Photo of the Obama Family

Barack Obama and his political assets

NEWSCOM

To which The Scrapbook responds: Oh, really?

You see, what surprises The Scrapbook is not the apparent fact that the Obamas are a nice, close-knit family, or that Malia, 13, and 10-year-old Sasha are appealing young girls. What surprises The Scrapbook is that, up until the re-election campaign of Barack Obama, news organizations such as the Washington Post have been exceedingly protective of Democratic presidential families, especially children, and highly critical of any comment made about, any attention whatsoever paid to, presidential offspring. 

Unless, of course, the children were the offspring of Republican presidents. This contemporary trend began with the election of Bill Clinton, whose daughter Chelsea was 12 years old when her father entered the White House. The senior Clintons did not want hostile attention paid to their pre-adolescent daughter—a reasonable, and understandable, concern—but this soon devolved into a blanket protectiveness about Chelsea Clinton who, at age 32, still enjoys a kind of all-encompassing immunity in the media. 

This struck The Scrapbook with especial force two years ago when, at the height of the Great Recession, venture-capitalist Chelsea was married in a lavish, multimillion-dollar ceremony at a plush Hudson River estate to the investment-banker son of an ex-Democratic congressman recently sprung from prison. The Scrapbook can only imagine how the press would have treated this spectacle had it involved, say, one of the daughters of George W. Bush. 

The fact is, of course, that presidential children of all ages have been fodder for the press and, Chelsea Clinton notwithstanding, there is no particular evidence that this did them lasting harm. The rambunctious young sons of Theodore Roosevelt were closely chronicled in their time, and their older sister Alice was covered like modern royalty. There was no blackout on reporting the speeding tickets and early marital woes of Franklin Roosevelt’s offspring, and the hostile Washington Post review of Margaret Truman’s singing debut is the stuff of legend. The Kennedys were hardly averse to publicizing photographs of Caroline and John Jr. cavorting in the Oval Office. And of course 13-year-old Amy -Carter had concerns about “nuclear weaponry and the control of nuclear arms,” which her father relayed to the nation during his debate with Ronald Reagan in October 1980. 

So The Scrapbook welcomes the two Obama girls to the world of electioneering, and is interested to learn that Sasha and Malia are regarded by the experts as “political assets.” Our only quibble is with the hypocrisy of the press—no piety, please, about tender sensibilities or family privacy—and we take rigorous exception to Celinda Lake’s assertion that the more you know about the Obamas “the harder it is to vilify” Barack. The Scrapbook thought exactly the same thing about Jenna and Barbara Bush, but that didn’t stop the -Celinda Lakes of the world from vilifying their father.

Adieu, ‘Mademoiselle’

Perhaps you heard the big news from France last week. No, not the ongoing legal travails of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who was questioned by police about involvement with a prostitution ring in the northern French city of Lille. (His lawyer, by the way, has defended the former head of the IMF with Gallic flair; Strauss-Kahn, said the attorney, might not have known the professional status of the guests at his soirées: “Guess what? At these sorts of parties, one is not necessarily wearing clothes; and I defy you to try to distinguish a prostitute who is naked from a worldly woman who is naked.”)

But we digress. The big news was the victory of French feminists in getting their government to remove the distinction between married (Madame) and unmarried (Mademoiselle) females on official paperwork, of which there is no shortage in bureaucracy-besotted France. Henceforth, all females will be officially designated Madame.

This magazine’s correspondent in Paris, Anne-Elisabeth Moutet, entered a dissent in a column for the London Daily Telegraph. Writes -Mademoiselle Moutet:

It may feel like a victory to all those new feminist groups who’d decided to campaign over it, but I for one shall be sorry to see my Mademoiselle disappear from official French forms. .  .  .  It’s not that I disagree with everything the brash French women’s groups have been fighting for. But was it really necessary to deprive the French language of such an interesting nuance simply because it gives an indication of one’s married status? .  .  .

Mademoiselle .  .  . always had its own panache, from princess to Grande Cocotte to stage diva. Think Sarah Bernhardt or Miss Howard, Napoleon III’s mistress. In French history, La Grande Mademoiselle (as court protocol correctly styled her) is a true heroine: Louis XIV’s first cousin, Anne Marie Louise d’Orléans, Duchess of Montpensier, led the aristocratic revolt known as the Fronde at the age of 25 against her young cousin’s project of absolute power. The Grande -Mademoiselle led troops, rallied Orléans under siege, and had the Bastille cannons fired against the king’s army.

Or consider the more recent example of Catherine Deneuve, who has always stuck with Mademoiselle:

Never mind that she was married to David Bailey and had high-profile affairs and children with Roger Vadim and Marcello Mastroianni. She was resolutely never Madame. Compare her with Vadim’s earlier wife, Brigitte Bardot, who did become a Madame, several times over. It’s difficult not to see Bardot, who gave up her career early on to devote much of her time to animal welfare and the cause of Marine Le Pen, as more of a victim than a feminist star. By contrast, Deneuve, a style icon and a great beauty at 68, comes off as a winner. When I interviewed Vadim, a surprisingly spiteful serial seducer of great beauties, he was still resentful of Deneuve, decades later, for never marrying him. She had dropped him! .  .  . She went on to have a better career after she left! As far as Deneuve was concerned, calling a woman Madame certainly meant making her walk three paces behind, metaphorically speaking.

Concludes Mlle Moutet: “Far from indicating a kind of mere real‑woman-in-waiting status, Mademoiselle had become pretty useful to sandbag some people into realizing that you are making your own way on your own terms. I plan to keep using it, and intend to encourage my independent‑minded friends to do the same.”

The Scrapbook wishes to join in the Moutet dissent and enter a related one of its own. In its younger days The Scrapbook lived in France for a couple of years (we styled ourselves Le Scrapbook back then), and we retain not-so-fond memories of navigating all the official forms. We recall applying to the police (or was it the prefecture?) for a government identity card, and being sent away after an hour or so in line to obtain notarized proof from the concierge at our lodgings that our address was what we had claimed. Opening a bank account was no picnic either. Examples could be multiplied. Real liberation, for Monsieur, Madame, Mademoiselle, and everyone in between would be some relief from all the bumf imposed on them by Napoleon’s heirs.

Hope and (Pocket) Change

Everyone is assuming an Obama reelection juggernaut, with a well-oiled fundraising machine amassing a record-setting 10-digit war chest. Is it conceivable that -everyone is wrong? Are Obama’s donors bitterly clinging to their wallets this time around? Our longtime colleague Matthew Continetti, now the editor of the newly launched Washington Free Beacon, makes the case that the Obama bandwagon may not be running on all cylinders: 

Obama has found it more difficult to raise money. He has $140 million so far, suggesting that it will be hard for his campaign to match its 2008 numbers, much less its ridiculous rumored projection of $1 billion. The campaign has become more desperate as the money has dried up. You see it in the U-turn on Super PACs, which have gone from threatening democracy to being an integral part in the president’s reelection effort. You see it in the questionable characters that show up in the lists of Obama donors and bundlers: the two brothers of a Mexican fugitive; the former Democratic congressman and registered lobbyist who says he was never a lobbyist; a king of short sales connected to the call girl for client number nine; the founder of Def Jam Records; and Anna Wintour.

If you haven’t already done so, it’s high time you bookmarked the Washington Free Beacon, freebeacon.com. We recommend that you visit the site early and often.

Poster Boy

In further “Hope and Change” news, the AP reports that -Shep-ard Fairey, the creator of the iconic Barack Obama “HOPE” poster, has pleaded guilty “to criminal contempt, saying he made a ‘terrible decision’ in 2009 to destroy some documents and fabricate others in a civil lawsuit pertaining to the Associated Press photograph he relied upon to make the poster.”

Supply your own metaphor.

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