I’m not fan of Michelle Malkin, but she’s perfectly justified in complaining when her critics employ sexist and racist stereotypes to dismiss her arguments and positions out of hand. And you’d think that’d make her more self-aware and sympathetic when other people receive the same the same lazy treatment. Isn’t it better to stand on unmoving principle about what’s acceptable and honest in public discourse, rather than pretending that any tit justifies any tat?
Apparently not. When FoxNews recently ran a graphic calling Michelle Obama “Obama’s baby momma,” Malkin was quick to both (legitimately) deny any responsibility and then simply belittle the idea that it was objectionable.
For Malkin, instead of a chance to unabashedly exercise a principle, it was just another chance to play into her usual game of interpretive innuendo.
Malkin’s stock and trade is all about spinning out character narratives, using each little news tidbit to shore up a consistent psychological caricature of her enemies (she’s far from alone in this of course: Dan Quayle = stupid, Gore = boring, Ford = clumsy, Bush = phony folksy stupid). And in this case, the narrative is that Obama and his wife are privileged affirmative-action babies who want special treatment, kid gloves, and the right to whine at any ill-treatment.
But politicians and their allies are constantly criticized, insulted, belittled, and they and their allies are constantly hitting hits back, objecting to the characterization, demanding apologies. Every single partisan and candidate does it, and every single partisan and candidate does it back. The pattern has (sadly) come to almost completely dominate political new cycles.
In Malkin’s little game, however any time the Obamas or anyone in their political corner objects or pushes back to an attack on their character, she portrays this as more evidence that they’re precious and spoiled. Important Republicans, of course, can push back and object to offensive characterizations all they want. Usually with all the righteous fury Malkin and her carefully controlled stable of yes-men commenters can muster to shore them up. And there’s no overall conclusion to be drawn about their complaining (unless of course, they stray from the party line).
Thus, perfectly everyday political behavior becomes some sort of extraordinarily important and unique insight into the character of the Obamas. A narrative is born, where every element that helps fold into the caricature is blown out of proportion, every element against it is ignored. Again, Malkin is hardly alone on this (McCain’s supposedly outrageous and unbridled temper is another of these narratives), but she’s none the better for indulging in it so consistently.
As to the actually content of Malkin’s belittling, it’s a rather feeble attempt. Her basic retort is that Michelle Obama used a phrase similar to “baby momma” herself. But the only documented version she can muster is a reference to Michelle calling Obama her “babies’ daddy.” For her fan club of commenters this of course ends the subject entirely: in fact, as far as they are concerned, when FOXNews associates the Obamas with illiterate Ebonicized slang and implies that their children are bastards, that reflects poorly on critics for daring to complain.
For the rest of us though, the difference seems pretty clear: the FOXNews version is ungrammatical “Ebonics” slang that conjures up a stereotypical broken black family, a single-mother’s former lover and the deadbeat father of her children. While this sort of thing might pass muster in decidedly more playful and lightweight venues like People magazine, most people seem to think it’s out of bounds in supposed serious political reporting. Does Malkin? She never really bothers to say beyond musing over whether its author was “making a lame attempt to be hip, clueless about the original etymology of the phrase, or both.”
The reference Mrs. Obama used, “My babies’ daddy, Barack Obama,” might or might not be characterized as slang itself, but it was neither ungrammatical nor has quite the implication as “baby momma” or “baby daddy” being tossed out in the midst of a hit piece, and was pretty obviously a term of endearment, not belittlement.
The only reference she offers for Michelle Obama actually using the exact phrase “baby daddy” is a pseudonymous anti-Obama poster in the John McCain Forum of website topix. But apparently, this empty source is enough for her to declare that critics don’t want to “let the facts get in the way” of their outrage.
And in any case, it’s not clear that her argument would make sense even if Michelle Obama had used the slang at some informal venue.
Presumably if Malkin had ever referred to herself using self-effacing language, such as jokingly calling herself “a bitch” (something lots of women I know do from time to time) she still wouldn’t think it appropriate for MSNBC to then use that as justification to run that as a label under her talking head during an interview. Nor would her own earlier usage of the term be a good excuse for MSNBC to play down the offensiveness and unprofessional nature of their own usage.
In fact, anyone that brought it up would seem remarkably desperate and self-serving.
Update: Malkin apparently doesn’t think I made my case strong enough. She’s now written a post entitled “The new, unreality-based Michelle Obama-as-GOP victim meme.” But ask yourself: is this really a “meme,” or is Malkin herself the one playing up ordinary back and forth politics in order to perpetuate her overall caricature?
And just to provide another example of sloppy reasoning, Malkin is trying to claim that random anonymous commenters on an ABCnews blog (as well as comedians and nutpicked bloggers) saying nasty things about Laura Bush wasting jet fuel are somehow equivalent to the full-frontal assault being launched against Mrs. Obama on mainstream and supposedly serious news shows.
What’s her argument here in any case? When George Bush ran in 2000 and 2004, was his wife ever a huge story and point of controversy? And to the degree she ever was, is she claiming that Bush never spoke out, would have spoken out, or should have spoken out in defense of his wife and her character? Isn’t this a standard that Malkin applies to no one but Democratic candidates and their spouses?
I mean, what exactly is she suggesting that it would be legitimate and rational for Obama to do in response to the criticism: nod and thank everyone for their concerns?