Photocopying Michelle Obama's Diary, Just in Case

Barack Obama's analogy about washing dishes doesn't capture the NSA controversy nearly as well as this one.
barack michelle full.jpg
Reuters

President Obama settled on a surprising analogy last week while explaining his theory of the NSA surveillance controversy to reporters. "The question is how do we make the American people more comfortable?" he said. "If I tell Michelle that I did the dishes -- now, granted, in the White House, I don't do the dishes that much -- and she's a little skeptical, well, I'd like her to trust me, but maybe I need to bring her back and show her the dishes and not just have her take my word for it."

The analogy has been widely panned, and for good reason. Almost as soon as I heard it, I thought of a different analogy that does a much better job of capturing the actual issues at play.

Let's stick with Barack and Michelle's home life -- but instead of dirty dishes, they're at odds over personal privacy. See, Barack snuck into Michelle's closet one day, dug through her belongings until he found her diary, and photocopied it. Then he replaced the original, locked the copy in his desk, and didn't think about it much until she found out months later and furiously confronted him.

"What? You stole my diary?"

"No Michelle, I didn't 'steal' it. But I am going to find a cage for whoever told you that I photocopied it."

"I can't believe you took it and made a copy -- you invaded my privacy."

"Listen, Michelle. I did not invade your privacy. I have no interest in reading your diary. I merely set aside a copy in case I have a legitimate reason for reading it at some undetermined point in the future."

"That's still outrageous! And how do I know you haven't read it?"

"That's unfair. You have no evidence that I read it. This conversation needs to be a little bit more informed and responsible."

"And who knows who might get ahold of it now that you've stashed a copy somewhere!"

"There are very strict safeguards around who can get into my desk, Michelle, you know that."

"What about when it's Joe's desk, or Hillary's? Eww, what if Bill reads my diary. I can't believe you did this. And what if you get tempted to read it yourself a year from now, if you haven't already?"

"You just have to trust me, Michelle. This is for your own good. Ultimately, I'm the decider."

"Oh my God, you're even starting to sound like him."

Admittedly, that isn't a perfect analogy either, but it comes a lot closer than Obama did to capturing the actual stakes in this debate, and the reason so many Americans are angry at him.

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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