Monday, March 17


I don't have a problem with this. In fact, it speaks to my heart as a woman. It is perfectly understandable that Michelle Obama has wrestled with the conflicts between her affinity for her ethnic community and the desires of anyone to achieve the best standard of living possible for herself and her family.

We are all faced with choices in our lives -- and we have to decide between various competing loyalties: our families, our own futures and prospects of prosperity, which offers us even more choices. As a woman, mother and executive, I can identify with Michelle's own internal conflicts. I remember when I finally reached a six-figure salary, my youngest son asking me, "Mom, will you still be a Democrat?" Even as a pre-teen, he had enough knowledge and experience to understand that financial comfort often leads to a protectionist sort of politics. When I replied, "Of course not. Dad's and my philosophy is what it is, whether we're struggling or succeeding financially," he was demonstrably proud and relieved. His parents, in his mind, had proven they weren't hypocrites.

I don't fault Michelle Obama for wrestling with her ties to her community versus her opportunities for success in the larger world -- I just wish our society didn't make those kinds of struggles inevitable among our best minority (and other disadvantaged) youths. My only problem with this insight into what has motivated Ms. Obama is that, in her forties, she still seems not to have reconciled herself to her choices. She too, as she suggests to others, could have chosen to be a teacher, a social worker, a nurse. She did not. She opted for the corporate world and a very fat salary. There is nothing at all wrong with that. We all want the money to be able to give our children the best opportunities, the best education, adequate healthcare. But Michelle seems to be still blaming a society that has afforded her unusually privileged opportunities for the fact that others may not have shared the same. That's understandable. A John Edwards, who has made a fortune by his own talent and hard work, may want desperately for others of his birth class to have a chance to attain the same, and fight for that. That's not only understandable, it's admirable. And if that is Michelle's goal, I can only applaud her.

But I haven't seen any evidence that Michelle has spent any great effort towards that aspiration. She has enjoyed a privileged education, a superior economic status in the corporate world she now decries. I understand that she is still conflicted. And so are many of us progressives for whom "making it" isn't enough if we can't take others with us.

But where does she get off disparaging this nation, which with all its faults, has a history of gradualism, that is, the inexorable forward movement towards social equity. Yes, at times it makes me crazy to view all the social problems with which we're beset. Of COURSE, progressives want to see Martin's vision executed NOW, we want an end to war and racial divides, we want a leveling of classes and a social safety net that will eliminate hunger, poverty, and all inequities in our society. But we know who the opposition to those aspirations is -- not our fellow progressives, not a different race -- white, black, Asian, or Latino -- it is the Republicans, the conservatives who believe "I've got mine -- now you're on your own."

For the Obamas, who we now know have been sitting at the feet of Jeremiah Wright for two decades, it seems that an entire race, white Americans, is to be blamed for all their sorrows. For all my life I have been ashamed of the wrongs perpetuated against African Americans (I hate that term; to me, Americans are Americans). But the hero of our family (including our children), Martin Luther King, demonstrated an extraordinary spirit of love and reconciliation, a courage that transcended race to embrace all that is good and decent and Christian, and he dreamed of a day when character would be more important than color, and that is the vision I have carried for the past 40 years. Anything less would be a betrayal of Dr. King.

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