First Lady Makes History, Yet Keeps Status Quo

Old-fashioned is good, according to the people

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    NEWSLETTERS

    AP
    First lady Michelle Obama reads a Christmas storybook during a visit to the Children's National Medical Center in Washington.

    When it comes to making history -- and in particular, fashion history, First Lady Michelle Obama seems to have things wrapped up pretty well.

    She has managed to become a style icon and create Cinderella stories for up-and-coming designers, while graciously welcoming everyone from heads of state to celebrities and "mere" locals trick-or-treating at the White House door.

    She is also among the most popular women in the new administration, with 68 percent of the public holding a positive view of her, according to aCNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey released last week. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is not far behind with 64 percent, while President Barack Obama lags behind them both with a 58 percent approval rating.

    A Marist poll released Dec. 15 also noted that more people -- 46 percent compared with 32 percent eight months ago -- are saying that she is not altering the role of first lady from its traditional contours, the Washington Post reported, i.e., old-fashioned is good.

    But, according to the Post's Robin Givhanthe provocative campaigner, professional advocate, onetime community health-care liaison and "rock" of the Obama family has presided over events that often seemed more dutiful than inspired.

    The first lady proved she can be a gracious hostess in 2009. She opened the White House to a wide array of citizens, made it a place where the arts are celebrated and nurtured, and transformed it into a source of inspiration for young people, especially those from the D.C. community. But of the numerous receptions, ribbon-cuttings, roundtables and thank-you visits that were on her schedule, few of them -- if any -- resonated beyond the spectacle and frisson of having a celebrity, albeit a history-making one, in the room.
    Her events generated pictures for Facebook pages, blogs and brag walls, but not narratives. They made the attendees feel appreciated, special and listened to. But Obama did not attempt to convert audiences of nonbelievers on issues ranging from health-care reform to gender equity.

    It seems that some in the media are sometimes more concerned with what Mrs. Obama is wearing than the message she's touting. (Of course we know what she's saying is important, but we can't help it. We love what she wears.)

    Givhan acknowledges that the First Lady has accomplished something: 

    Obama quickly accomplished one of her primary goals as first lady -- she opened the White House to a wide range of individuals; she made it a place where the arts are celebrated; and she connected with her new community, visiting schools and launching a mentoring program.

    But that's not enough, according to Givhan. It's time for the First Lady to "come out from behind the lectern" and choose a signature project that will become her legacy. 

    As long as it doesn't go the way of Hillary's legacy (health care disaster, cough, cough), we say, go for it Mrs. O.