Sunday, March 29, 2009

Becoming the First Lady

ROBERTA: I'm a big fan of Michelle Obama: I think she handled the campaign and the transition to the White House with grace and style. She gave up a big job to support Barack even though I'm certain she's smart enough to become the president herself. I totally love what she's doing on the White House grounds: starting a garden and talking about diet and health. (Although I didn't see tomatoes on the garden plan, and certainly not okra!) She wears what she wants (including no sleeves) and she looks good doing it. She's firm but loving with her kids, and a terrific role model for disadvantaged kids, and god knows she must have a good relationship with her own mother since they'll be living together for four years. And she's gained a lot of points with the public by supporting military families.

I'm pretty sure this question would be considered non-PC, but I'm going for it anyway. If you were going to serve as the first lady (first man if you're in Bill Clinton's shoes), what agenda would you push? What would be your strong points and your pitfalls?

JAN: I'd give some great parties. I'd really be into the nice clothes. Oh, and was there something else??? Oh right, public service. I'd like to deal with hunger and homelessness because in my mind, that's where you have to start. Oh, and I'd also be a real nag about the deficit.

HANK: It could be kind of fun. You could jab your husband with an elbow, and say--hey. Do we really need another one of those Trident missiles?

RHYS: My big problem would be having to be gracious to politicians, including foreign politicians whose agenda was repugnant to me. My agenda--although I feel passionately about health care reform I'd learn from what happened to Hilary Clinton. The First Lady is not an elected official. Her role is to lead by example. I think I'd try to be green, to encourage educational excellence and discourage waste. I'd like to step in and stop government pork, but I'd probably have to grit my teeth and shut up about that.

HALLIE: I'd be a lousy first lady. I'd be early Hilary and put my foot in my mouth about chocolate chip cookies. I'd probably have to be sent to charm school. And then I guess I'd devote myself to encouraging people to consume less and give more back, to make the common good everyone's priority. Wall Street would hate me.

ROBERTA: That would fun for us, Hallie! All the reporters could buzz Jungle Red Writers trying to find out about the real Hallie--and can't her husband put a lid on her? And we'd have to say, nope, what you see is what you get--and we love it that way!

HALLIE: Thanks, Roberta. I'd probably come out in favor of kind words. It's amazing how a few of those can turn around a day.

HANK: I'd be big on libraries. Early education. After-school programs. Self-esteem for pre-teens. And history. Somehow, when kids learn about the past, like a story--they care more about the present and the future. Plus, I could handle the press corps. Some of those questions in news conferences--puh-leeze. When the question is longer than the answer, you've got an ego problem. As First Lady, I could put a stop to all that.

ROBERTA: And if I was the First Lady, I'd definitely want you as my press secretary Hank!

RHYS: I hadn't thought about the clothes. It would be great to decide what "My look" would be and then have designers fighting to produce it for me, rather than cruising the sales and seeing what Ralph Lauren has at fifty percent off! Oh, and I'd love to choose the First dog!

RO: I'd probably just want to stay out of the way and let the guy they elected do his job, but I suppose that's not realistic. First ladies always take these risky stands - "I'm for children! Literacy!" Who's not?
I'd be the first lady who converted all the government cars to fatwagons... running on waste vegetable oil. Of course not having converted my own, I'd have to learn how to do it first. And they do tend to smell like onion rings..but that's okay.

Pile on, JR readers. What would your time in the White House be like? (Photo credits to and sskennel)


  1. I'm wondering if we've come far enough that the First Lady can depart from all the "womanly" matters like children, education, libraries, etc. Not that there's anything wrong with supporting any of those--the needs are very real (but can anyone point to any tangible achievement from former librarian Laura Bush?). I remember when Hillary as First Lady tried to do something substantive about health care and got laughed at.

    I think I'd end up working on behalf of the arts, at all levels. Art and music programs are often among the first things to get cut at schools with tight budgets, but if you don't introduce them to children early, you lose a real opportunity. For adults, I'd sustain affordable museum and concert access. Do you know what it costs a family of four to visit a museum just to look at the paintings?

    I'd probably get slammed to doing safe girly things--but it might work.

  2. I love the new White House kitchen garden, and MIL living with them--too cool. What better person to be there for the girls when business captures the lion's share of their parent's time. Plus, it sends a wonderful signal nationwide about the fantastic gifts older generations have to offer.

    As to my agenda as First Lady, well--first I'd sell that $250,000 set of new china the last administration insisted on buying, (probably, I'd sell it to Dubai, they're loaded--got oil, anyone?)

    With the money, I forge a campaign (soft and gentle, I'm all about carrying the big stick, but speaking gently) and convince our closest ally, Canada, to accept faux fur as the future and stop killing over 300,000 baby seals a year with clubs to their fragile skulls as they nurse beside their mothers.

    Confucius says; man who sit on tack get point.

  3. I would so love the clothes! And you can never go wrong by asking yourself "would Jackie O have worn this?"
    I'd push for women's rights (yeah, real popular) and teaching young girls that education (not pregnancy in your tweens) was the way to get ahead.
    Oh, and I'd make middle-aged women "uninvisible." Pretty soon, all women wouldn't be able to wait to get older, have gray hair, cellulite, wrinkles, etc., because everyone would be more impressed by what they had accomplished than what they looked like.

  4. Peg, you're right about older women becoming invisible. When I am on book tour now, I'm fed up with nice restaurants always asking, "Are you waiting for someone?" as if they can't believe I'd dare to eat alone.
    And a Type A guy beside me on a plane asking if I was going to visit family. No, I said, speaking to 300 people. How about you?

  5. Boy, ditto all of that! I am so with the organic garden, and would probably extend it to fruit trees and berry bushes. And of course I would institute weekly mystery readings and invite all the Sisters to show up and share their work in turn. I agree that Michelle is doing a fabulous job all on her own, however. What a great First Family we have.

  6. Invisibility is much underrated.

    It's so great that I can now go out in public with my daughters and no matter what I do it no longer embarasses them.

    No matter how old she is, the first lady will probably yearn for a little invisibility.

  7. it is hard to untangle Sheila, because you're totally right about the "womanly" things. On the other hand, we elected Barack, not Michelle, so I'm sure they have to be careful about stepping over a line.

    Great idea to sell the china! I assume we have back-up sets we could use for our sisters in crime dinner parties?

    And yes Hallie, the part of the job I'd hate the most is never ever being normally invisible again. They can't even go out for dinner without a huge fuss and a phalanx of secret service.

  8. What's the point of all those fabulous clothes if you're going to be invisible??????

  9. I have't been here for awhile, AGAIN! Gettin' ready for another trip - Greece AND Turkey this time! Instead of a consciousness writer - maybe a travel writer!

    So, as first man... first off to even take the job you have to be into visibility... just love all that attention ... news flash... first man returns from golden bathroom... rumored to have washed his hands!!! More at 11!! And, my guess is it can get almost that bad.

    The first thing that needs to be done is quit doing gestures that look good, but in fact are not effective. When our military budget was 440 billion it was estimated that "just" 14 billion would keep all the hungry kids in the US fed! THAT was less than 4% of that budget. That's what I'm talking about when I say gestures. Why is it we can "easily" find 440 billion for "military" but have starving kids. We TALK about a lot of things - but what really gets done in terms of tangible improvements. That's the squeaky wheel that needs to be brought to the White House. The gadfly if you will, where "someone" asks a "simple" question - about a subject... yes, I know you fixed the budget, but how many kids are still homeless tonight? How come you can find 800 billion to fix a structual economic problem, but have kids in rundown schools. Having that child sitting next to Michelle at his first address was awesome! A true motivational reminder of what America is all about. She had to barrow a stamp to send the letter, but it shows when you are motivated you don't walk away until you get what you want. That's the spirit that keeps America what it is and we should always keep that in view.

    And, I totally agree in regard to girly things... the first lady should push the envelope as far as possible - as long as it does not dim the spotlight of the president and any very important programs.

    Personally, I'm a little tired of the fat cat generation. And, there's too many fat cats in DC in my opinion. My definition of a fat cat - one who has way more money and resources than they could possibly use ... yet can't find the time or generosity to assist those with less fortunate outlooks. It's teaching people to fish that will change the world, not "giving" people fish!!

    Okay... okay ... now if I just step back carefully I won't fall as I step down from this soap box...

    By the way... loved all the comments!

    And Peg - WHAT are you doing in Michigan!!! I'm a Michigan transplant from NJ as well. I heart MI. Left NJ and NEVER looked back... accept of course to visit reletives!

    Jan - you do raise an issue that needs to be reckoned with.


  10. Maybe the First Family could have a yard sale?

    There are thousands and thousands of things, aren't there, in storage? Gifts from potentates and well-wishers? I thnk the chief usher catalogues it and keeps track of it all.

    So how 'bout a big spring cleaning?

    If there were a big tag sale on the White House lawn, all that stuff could go to peole who could use it. And the money could go to help those who need it.

  11. Hank -

    Great idea!! Love it!

    Wouldn't something like that be awesome! And the more expensive items/collectibles (in the sense that they came from the White House) could be auctioned off.

    Count me in as a supporter of your idea... who do we start writing to?

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  13. I love the tag sale idea. And then a pregnant woman could go into the house....wait a minute that sounds like the beginning of a good story...

  14. If I were first lady, I'd barely get noticed because my wife would have made history.

  15. Okay, if we're talking clothes, the first thing I'd do was all Stacy & Clinton and yell, "Help!" Oh, yeah, and someone to do something about my arms.

    I'd have to take on education. I know there are a gazillion problems right now, but unless we pour LOTS of money into LOTS of schools (and, yes, more for the ones with less), these problems are just going to keep building. There--my soapbox for the day!