Inside 'Obama-lot'

Columnists parse the politics of the first couple's marriage

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Critics have derided President Obama’s “celebrity,” but to many writers there’s nevertheless something iconic—even Camelot-like—about the first couple. This weekend, Jodi Kantor of the New York Times Magazine takes a look inside Barack and Michelle's marriage. While acknowledging the more "predictable" elements of the profile, columnists are dissecting the Obamas' romance and the sometimes uneasy balance they've drawn between the personal and political. Their lessons:

  • Market Your Marriage, If You Can  At The Washington Post, Howard Kurtz says "it might not be too much to say that they market their marriage -- indeed, perhaps that has become a requirement for living in the White House." He calls the decision to do The New York Times Magazine story a "brilliant journalistic coup."
  • Women Still Get the Short End of the Stick  Politics Daily's Chris Rovzar zeroes in on an uncomfortable moment in the interview when author Jodi Kantor asks "how any couple can have a truly equal partnership when one member is president." Rovzar says the couple's awkward responses are revealing. "Later, Kantor goes back to describing the joyful, flawed Obamas as the unique pair who are 'unusually willing, for a presidential couple, to kiss, touch and flirt in public,'" Rovzar writes. "It's almost as though she, like the obsequious staffers surrounding the First Couple, is desperate for a laugh and a high note to get away from the hint of a problem that is real, and complicated."
  • Call It What It Is  At DoubleX, Dayo Olopade says she appreciates that Michelle is so honest and open about her sacrifices. "What seems fairly awesome about the Obama partnership is the extent to which Michelle Obama both knows and vocalizes exactly what she has given up to be an unpaid figurehead in the East Wing of the White House—and, what’s more, how she maintains a sort of 'you ain’t so great' affect when it comes to her powerful partner."
  • Marriage Is Tough, Political Marriages Are Even Tougher  Salon's Amy Benfer says Barack's periods of absence due to his political career were so extensive that it was as though Michelle had been "a single mom." If anyone had any illusions about how difficult it can be to have a family and be successful in politics, Benfer says they will quickly disappear after reading about the hard times in the Obama marriage. "Let's just start here: Until moving into the White House, the family had not lived full-time under the same roof since 1996, two years before Malia was born. To repeat: Barack has been at least a part-time absent father and husband for nearly 13 years."
  • Be Prepared to Compromise for Barack  At Gawker, Adrian Chen says "we are all married to Barack Obama," so we might learn something from Michelle.
What can we learn from the Obamas' 'negotiations of public and private life... conflicts and compromises' in their real house? Compromise is just another word for 'settling,' and clearly that's the stage the public is at in its metaphorical relationship with Barack (Which should be followed by a few years of passive-aggressive sniping, followed by a messy divorce in which our children are the only losers.) Then, of course, there was just that big compromise on health care.
  • Michelle Obama's Complicated World  At Politico, Ben Smith finds "the glimpse behind the scenes at Michelle's rockiest campaign moments -- before she vanished into the more traditional, understated public role she still inhabits" fascinating.
  • The First Couple Has Its Problems Too  Let's not kid ourselves, Lynn Sweet writes at Politics Daily. The Obama marriage is The Obama marriage "is presumably at a high point because they are living under the same roof full time for the first time since 1996." 
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.