Another Perspective

President Michelle Obama Takes Charge

The road to January 20, 2017.

By 5.12.14

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It was unseasonably warm on January 20, 2017 when Michelle Obama approached the podium. If it was due to global warming she had no complaint. It was nice to go without a heavy coat, which would have obscured her designer dress purchased for the occasion. It made a particularly nice contrast to the dowdy outfit worn by the defeated Democratic Party candidate, Hillary Clinton.

As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg shuffled forward Obama turned her head and caught the eye of former President Bill Clinton, seated in the front row. The president-elect winked, sparking a big smile in return—in sharp contrast to the glum expression on Hillary Clinton’s downward-looking face. Outgoing President Barack Obama was too busy modeling the perfect profile for the crowd to notice, but a lucky photographer captured the moment. That picture was sure to go viral as soon as he could file.

Michelle Obama raised her right hand to take the oath of office, and thought back to that fateful May morning.

May 15, 2015. The day before the Senate voted to rescind the individual health insurance mandate. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell rounded up seven Democratic votes to break a filibuster. President Barack Obama could veto anything that ultimately passed, but he no longer was sure he wouldn’t be overridden. Congressional Democrats had finally learned exactly what was in the health care bill and they weren’t happy with the political consequences. 

In fact, mornings for the Obamas became increasingly unpleasant after the mid-term elections. Sen. McConnell was positively radiant as he prepared to use his surprisingly large majority of six. Fox News seemed to broadcast 24/7 on how the triumphant GOP intended to dismantle President Barack Obama’s “socialist” legacy. Rush Limbaugh was irrepressible.

Even the mainstream press, including the New York Times, gleefully described the president as a lame duck. The pre-election revelation that the NSA had been recording the conversations of certified liberal members of the media—including E.J. Dionne and Chris Matthews, for goodness sake!—had finally lost the affections of the fourth branch of government.

On this morning Michelle and the kids quickly finished their meals and escaped before the president launched into yet another whiny monologue about the ingratitude of the feckless American people. She again thought about his biggest mistakes, and how she could have done a better job. If First Ladies could be elected president, why start with one who had shamelessly manipulated the political system from the beginning? Voters might have forgotten the Clintons’ sins, but not Michelle Obama—financial scandals, missing evidence, public humiliation from the likes of Monica Lewinsky, and so much more!

June 4, 2015. The president’s huggable friend, Charlie Crist, who retook Florida’s governorship as a Democrat, switched back to the Republican Party while criticizing the “nonexistent” leadership in the White House and lauding the “revived” GOP on Capitol Hill. The Obamas’ dinner that night was particularly gloomy. 

July 4, 2015. Presumptive Democratic Party nominee Hillary Clinton gave a holiday address in which she spent as much time attacking the Obama administration as the Republican Party. Barack Obama, she said, was well intentioned. But … then came a long pause. He was too cautious on social reform and too weak on defense. The president unforgivably chose liberty over security by proposing even small reforms to NSA data collection. And he was positively a wimp when it came to deploying federal agencies, such as the IRS, against the Democratic Party’s, er, America’s enemies, the vast right-wing conspiracy now led by the notorious Koch brothers. 

President Obama stalked out of the family room during the televised report on Clinton’s speech, but Michelle watched to the end, fuming. She then placed a phone call to someone who must have been almost as upset as she was about the Clinton candidacy, Bill Clinton.

August 10, 2015. It hadn’t taken much effort to get people to start talking up the possibility of Michelle Obama joining the race. Reporters loved the idea. Front-runner Hillary Clinton publicly welcomed “all competition,” but her supporters sneered at the idea, derided Michelle for being “only a glorified housewife,” and threatened to retaliate against anyone who backed her. No one bothered to even notice Vice President Joe Biden, who was below three percent in the polls. 

September 2, 2015. Truth be told, President Obama originally wasn’t thrilled with the idea of Michelle running. But every new Clinton jibe reduced his resistance. Now he gave an interview to the Washington Post in which he said he could think of no one more qualified. Hillary Clinton had been a good secretary of state he said, competent at carrying out his instructions. In contrast, Michelle was ready to issue instructions to the next secretary of state. And, of course, she’d never suffered from the sort of embarrassing ethical lapses natural for politicians from poor rural southern states, not that Hillary really was to blame.

September 16, 2015. Mitt Romney’s shocking entry into the GOP race transfixed Washington. Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Rick Santorum, and Mike Huckabee were dividing and subdividing the vote of Republicans who believed in something. Jeb Bush carried the hopes of the establishment, but virtually no one in “flyover country” wanted another Bush as president. The Dubya debacle was still too fresh. The mad rush to Romney was shameless even by Washington standards. The day was not yet over and Bush had lost his campaign manager, top consultant, lead pollster, spokesman, and social media director, as well as most of his big contributors.

January 7, 2016. Campaigning in Iowa, Clinton denounced the status quo as just a fancy way of saying the “mess we are in.” She brushed off critics who accused her of stealing the line from Ronald Reagan. Clinton attacked the “Romney-Obama” health care failure, which raised costs and left the sick uncovered. Single payer was the answer, she insisted. Clinton criticized the president for not pressing for big tax hikes to close the income gap. And she demanded air strikes on Russian military forces moving into Moldova and what little remained of independent Ukraine. Clinton denounced a policy of “appeasement” going back to George W. Bush and Russia’s war with Georgia.

January 22, 2016. After the disastrous result in the Iowa caucuses Michelle Obama realized that her husband’s record was a hopeless burden. Going left was the logical response, but Hillary Clinton already had seized that ground. Indeed, the latter had proposed a wealth tax to fund a United Nations military effort to impose universal peace. Obama and her advisers discussed options as Joe Biden appeared on television, explaining how his two percent was an “excellent foundation” on which to build in New Hampshire.

March 4, 2016. After “Super Tuesday” Mitt Romney was sweeping all before him, with more victories expected in four more days. The GOP was about primogeniture, after all, and it was his turn. Jeb Bush had dropped out after his dismal 5th place showing in New Hampshire, defeating only Huckabee, after Santorum ran a spate of ads on the former Arkansas governor’s predilection for releasing criminals early. A few people remembered the famous Willie Horton ads from 1988.

June 14, 2016. Michelle Obama glumly contemplated the likely coronation of Hillary Clinton as the Democratic Party nominee and president. Clinton had swept every primary and caucus. The Left rallied to her clarion call for class warfare. Moderate Democrats remembered Bill Clinton’s presidency with fondness. Neoconservatives swooned at her proposal to hike military spending by 50 percent, to be financed by higher income tax rates. Party apparatchiks feared the revenge she would wreak if they opposed the Clinton machine.

For a time Obama hoped Romney might have a chance. After all, he embraced the president’s health care reform as “a great start” that “built on what we tried to do” in Massachusetts. With the nomination wrapped up he promised to respect “established judicial precedents” like abortion when making court nominations. And he said the deficit problem had been exaggerated, that there was no need for “draconian” cuts in social programs. But then a video of his speech about how it was “our time” to take back Washington, “our” being the one percent, was leaked. It was too late for GOP money men to shift back to Bush, so they began to give money to Clinton’s campaign—after all, a seat at her table was better than continuing to sink with Romney’s political Titanic.

Michelle Obama put in a phone call to Rand Paul.

July 4, 2016. Standing in front of the Jefferson Monument, Michelle Obama and Rand Paul announced that they were running together on the line of the Reform Party, the political carcass left over from Ross Perot and Pat Buchanan. They explained that it was time to unite the country against the privilege, corruption, and careerism that dominated Washington. Obama and Paul admitted that their pairing might surprise some, but Obama pointed to Paul’s outreach to minority communities while Paul cited Obama’s commitment to rethink her husband’s troubled domestic policies. Both discussed the importance of staying out of foreign wars.

September 6, 2016. Clinton opened the fall campaign with a major speech intoning that the era of Big Government finally had arrived. Only a few political commentators recognized this to be a direct repudiation of her husband’s comments more than two decades before. But his absence from her side was widely noted. The campaign explained that he was fulfilling a prior commitment out of the country promoting his foundation.

Romney chose the Robert Dole approach, explaining that Big Government was necessary, just not quite as big as advocated by Clinton. And he sought to win back the ultra-hawks who had been migrating to Clinton—for instance, Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham said she would be a “worthy commander-in-chief”—by indicating his willingness to use nuclear weapons against America’s enemies. Romney’s aides whispered that no woman would likely be tough enough to make the same decision.

Obama took a very different approach, indicating that she had a growing appreciation as to how the government could not be expected to decide “highly personal” issues such as nutrition, health care, and employment for hundreds of millions of Americans. She believed her husband’s policies in these areas had been “thoughtful attempts to address important problems,” but favored relaxing federal controls and allowing more state experimentation. Paul focused his opening speech on civil liberties and foreign policy, denouncing Hillary Clinton’s “jackboot liberalism” and “war-mongering,” as well as Mitt Romney’s “relentless me-tooism, matching every bad Clinton policy proposal with something even worse.”

October 4, 2016. Clinton and Romney met in their first debate, from which Obama was excluded. However, their mutual advocacy of a bigger and busier federal government at home and abroad left both with falling poll ratings. Obama captured newspaper headlines when she appeared with her running mate to propose a new “patient-oriented” health care approach featuring expanded Health Savings Accounts, the end of mandated benefits, and relaxation of professional licensing requirements for doctors and nurses. The two candidates denounced Clinton’s “socialistic” support for single payer and Romney’s belated embrace of former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s disastrous “reform” legislation—which Obama said her husband had never realized contained so many bad, unworkable provisions. 

The president said he was “proud” of Michelle’s willingness to rethink failed panaceas and look past partisanship for answers to tough questions. He also lauded Rand Paul for abandoning the Republican Party’s “ruthless partisanship.” Vice President Joe Biden said he had gained a deep appreciation for the current First Lady’s compassion, commitment, and intelligence, and he believed she would be an even better president than her husband.

October 21, 2016. The polls showed the three leading candidates roughly even, with about one-third of voters undecided. Clinton decided to go left to solidify her base and Romney followed, on the theory that Republicans had nowhere else to go. Then Obama and Paul announced a new deficit reduction program, including personal accounts replacing Social Security for those newly entering the workforce. Even more shocking was the candidates’ proposal for a concerted effort to reduce the number of abortions. Obama noted how, as a person of color, she came to recognize the harm caused by Roe v. Wade

Then Bill Clinton made his first appearance in the country since the Labor Day election kick-off, commenting that Obama really seemed to understand what he had “tried to do as president.” Of course, he responded when asked, he backed his wife. But he thought it important for Americans to move past reflexive support for one party or another and join together in search of answers. Washington collectively took a very deep breath.

November 1, 2016. Clinton held the hard Left and extreme neoconservatives, while Romney kept establishment, country club Republicans. However, in the closing days centrist voters increasingly shifted to join fiscal conservatives and libertarians in supporting the Obama-Paul ticket. The New York Times and Washington Post both inveighed against this shocking and cynical alliance against progressive values. Paul Krugman wrote a splenetic column wondering why President Obama couldn’t “control” his wife, who was set to destroy the incumbent’s legacy for reasons of personal pique.

November 8, 2016. The results were close. The Obama-Paul ticket received 40 percent of the vote, slipping past Clinton at 35 percent. Romney trailed at 23 percent, with the rest going to assorted third parties. Obama’s margin was just enough to win a narrow margin in the Electoral College, avoiding a congressional showdown which Clinton might have won in the face of a likely GOP caucus split.

Liberal activists responded with wailing and gnashing of teeth. Democratic Party apparatchiks poured obloquy on President Obama for allowing his wife to wreck the “progressive moment.” In contrast, virtually no Republican admitted voting for Romney the day after. GOP activists uniformly claimed to have promoted the down ticket while voting Obama-Paul, and almost all of Sen. Rand Paul’s colleagues, other than Messrs. McCain and Graham, claimed to have worked behind-the-scenes for his election. The bipartisan stampede seeking positions in the next administration was even more shameless than usual.

January 20, 2017. Michelle Obama began her inaugural address reaching back to Ronald Reagan. “Government has become part of the problem,” she said. Only by looking “to the American people can we find answers to our most deep-seated problems.” 

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About the Author
Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. A former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan, he is the author and editor of several books, including The Politics of Plunder: Misgovernment in Washington (Transaction).