I have always said that if you want to know what a political leader is really like, pay close attention to the beliefs and values of his or her spouse and children. I have taken flack, among evangelicals friends, for noting that the born-again President George W. Bush certainly seems to have a very upper-crust wife from the oldline Protestant side of Dallas and I have yet to see signs of traditional faith in the lives of his daughters. So be it. So I looked with interest at the recent Newsweek cover -- "Barack's Rock" -- on the life and times of Michelle Obama.
But before I dig into that, let me state right up front that I am not all that troubled by the mini-firestorm about her alma mater locking up the text of her senior thesis -- "Princeton-Educated Blacks and the Black Community" -- until after the election. That's the thesis in which she wrote, as the product of a working-class family studying on an elite campus:
"My experiences at Princeton have made me far more aware of my 'Blackness' than ever before. I have found that at Princeton no matter how liberal and open-minded some of my White professors and classmates try to be toward me, I sometimes feel like a visitor on campus; as if I really don't belong."
I don't know about you, but I think it is more likely that the contents of this thesis would yield painful insights into Princeton life than offer negative information about the mind of the young Michelle LaVaughn Robinson.
Also, I am not very upset about her recent statement in Milwaukee that: "For the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country, and not just because Barack has done well, but because I think people are hungry for change." The woman speaks her mind. So be it.
No, what really interests me is that the Newsweek cover -- which offers quite a bit of material about Michelle Obama's life and her role in their family -- contains absolutely nothing about her faith or her views on cultural issues linked to religion. This is fascinating, since her husband speaks so freely about his faith. It seems to be a large part of his identity, as an adult convert to Christianity.
Take a look at this passage, which sketches out her influence in general terms:
Part of Michelle Obama's appeal -- she routinely draws audiences of 1,000-plus supporters even when she's campaigning on her own -- is that she comes across as so normal despite the withering glare of a national campaign. As a political spouse, she is somewhat unusual. She isn't the traditional Stepford booster, smiling vacantly at her husband and sticking to a script of carefully vetted blandishments. Nor is she a surrogate campaign manager, ordering the staff around and micromanaging the candidate's every move. She travels the country giving speeches and attending events (her mother watches the kids when she's on the road), but resists staying away for more than one night at a stretch. When the couple catch up several times a day on the phone, the talk is more likely to be about their daughters than the latest poll projections. Michelle has made it her job to ensure that Barack, who now lives full time inside the surreal campaign bubble of adoring crowds and constant attention, doesn't himself lose sight of what's normal.
Onstage, Obama has introduced Michelle as "my rock" -- the person who keeps him focused and grounded. In her words, she is just making sure he is "keeping it real." She does this in part by tethering him to the more mundane responsibilities of a husband and father.
Look the article over. Did I miss something?
So I guess I am saying that there really isn't any religion in the Newsweek article. That's kind of the point. I can't even find a nice, pushy ghost to mention. Just silence and, in light of the role faith plays in Obama's campaign, that strikes me as interesting. But does this tell us something about the editors at Newsweek or about Michelle Obama?
Again, did I miss something?