Former First Lady Michelle Obama left the White House almost three years ago but to hear her tell it, her eight years came to a bittersweet conclusion. She does not reminisce about her final day in the White House fondly. The crowd at President Trump’s inauguration didn’t reflect America’s diversity, you see. The crowd at the presidential inauguration was just too white for her comfort.
The 25th Essence Festival took place in New Orleans last weekend and there were some winners and some losers on the list of featured speakers. The annual event is held to celebrate black women and culture, sponsored by Essence magazine. Mostly a music festival, there is also a line-up of speakers each year. This year, with the 2020 election in mind, some of the Democrat hopefuls spoke to the attendees. The star, though, was Michelle Obama, who was billed as “Forever First Lady Michelle Obama”. She was interviewed by Oprah’s bestie, Gayle King, and she repeated some comments that she has expressed in previous interviews.
She spoke about her emotional reaction to leaving the White House, the Obama family home for eight years and her daughters’ final slumber party the night before the inauguration. I get it. Her kids grew up there. But she sure sounds like the same old Michelle Obama who said she was never really proud of America until her husband was nominated as his party’s presidential candidate.
“And then we had to meet the Trumps, the Trumps show up,” she said. “And I didn’t want to go out and greet them with tears in my eyes because people would think I was crying for other reasons.
She noted that when she looked out into the crowd, it was not reflective of a diverse country.
“All I had to do for 8 years, watching my husband get raked over the coals, feel like we had to do everything perfectly, no scandal,” she said. “It was a lot emotionally that when I got on that plane, it was a release.”
It is shocking how ungracious she still is after so much time has passed. Complaining about the treatment Barack Obama got from critics is standard, and other former First Ladies have done that, but this is why so many American voters shrug when her “When they go low, we go high” motto is mentioned. She and her husband didn’t really do much to bring the country together. If anything, the divisions in America were deepened and brought us to the Trump presidency.
The narrative these days that the Obama administration was a scandal-free one is predictable. It isn’t true, but it’s predictable. Perhaps she and her husband’s supporters don’t define the word as conservatives do. Off the top of my head, I think of the president’s Attorney General, Eric Holder calling himself Obama’s wingman, the Iran deal, Benghazi, Fast and Furious, targeting conservatives in the Tea Party with IRS harassment, monitoring journalists like James Rosen, and so on. The list is long and they can call it what they want to call it but it wasn’t good. They are re-writing history in the style of Howard Zinn.
Michelle Obama, despite rising to the height of power and privilege, still plays the victim card. She is encouraged to do so as her interview with King began with being asked, “Do you have any idea how much you are missed?” Well, this is exactly how Republican voters felt during the eight years of the Obama presidency yet the Bushes not only stayed out of the public eye during Obama’s time in the White House, they certainly never complained about their life in the White House.
Obama said that despite the way people now look at her and President Obama, and being the first lady, “They don’t remember how many punches we took to get there.”
“For a minute there, I was an angry black woman who was emasculating her husband,” Obama recalled about the campaign. “As I got more popular, that’s when people of all sides — Democrats and Republicans — tried to take me out by the knees and the best way to do it was to focus on the one thing people were afraid of: the strength of a black woman.”
Obama is still holding out on publicly supporting one Democrat over another in the 2020 presidential primary race. My money is on Kamala Harris as her favorite (and her husband’s, too) because I remember reading about how Barack Obama encouraged Kamala to consider running for president. And she’s the only black woman running for the 2020 nomination. In the meantime, both Obamas are remaining on the sidelines, even about support for his former vice-president.
King mentioned that some of the Democratic candidates for president were at the Essence Festival earlier. Obama said she and her husband are not getting involved until after the primary.
“It’s very early,” Obama said. “It is like trying to figure out who is going win the World Series after the first seven games.”
Obama said the general election is “so important” and they have to make sure everyone in the party comes together to support the nominee.
“We’re watching everyone, we’re supportive of everyone,” Obama said. “We are giving advice to whomever seeks it.”
When King asked if Obama had any thoughts about the dust-up between former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris, she said, “I do not.”
Some women attending the festival were not feeling the love for Joe Biden. It may not be enough to ride Obama’s coattails, though right now Biden has some solid support among black voters.
At the Essence Festival, some attendees suggested that Biden’s relationship with Obama was not enough to excuse his recent missteps and, in fact, made them more glaring. “The fact that he’s still tone-deaf in 2019, and he served with a black man for eight years . . . it’s offensive,” said Coretta Graham, a former prosecutor from Corpus Christi, Tex., who chairs the local Democratic Party there. “If you’ve been with someone that long, you ought to know. . . . To me, that means you weren’t paying attention.”
There was time, too, to bash the Trump administration. Gayle King teed her up to talk about how the bad orange man is “dismantling” Obama’s legacy. She denies trying to build a legacy but that’s just ridiculous. She acts as though every president doesn’t have an eye on the legacy he leaves behind. In other words, she thinks her supporters are too stupid to realize that in politics when the other party comes back into power, it’s all about tearing down the old and building up the new. Michelle Obama slaps Trump supporters and voters in her criticism of Trump’s administration.
King asked Obama about looking back over her husband’s presidency, and how it felt to watch everything his administration built be dismantled.
“People ask me that question all the time and I can honestly say, our upset wasn’t over our legacy. We weren’t there to instill our legacy, but the upset it would cause the country. What saddens me is what it’s doing to the country as a whole. What we have to be really conscientious of is what kind of country we’re leaving for our children or grandchildren,” Obama said.
— ESSENCE Festival (@essencefest) July 7, 2019