By MARSHA MERCER
President Barack Obama says that from now on he’ll do the chief executive thing his way -- with Congress if possible, without Congress when necessary.
And what about Michelle Obama? Scorned as a “feminist nightmare” by Politico last November because she has focused on fitness, health and gardening instead of elbowing her way into policy fights, what’s her next step?
This just might be the year the first lady rescues her husband from terminal lame duck status by showing him how to work around Congress and, more importantly, by helping Democrats get elected in November’s congressional midterm elections.
In his State of the Union address Tuesday night, Obama praised his wife’s Let’s Move project as a model for how he now intends to get things done without congressional support.
“As usual, our first lady sets a good example,” he said. “Michelle’s Let’s Move partnership with schools, businesses and local leaders has helped bring down childhood obesity rates for the first time in 30 years – an achievement that will improve lives and reduce health care costs for decades to come.”
It was a canny comparison not only because the first lady is more popular than the president but because Let’s Move is effective without being threatening. Obama was telegraphing the folks at home that his plan to act unilaterally by executive order is nothing to be afraid of – despite what his critics say.
Michelle Obama may be the fourth most powerful woman in the world, according to Forbes magazine, but she still seems more mom-in-chief than power player. There’s no Michellecare the way health care reform was Hillarycare in the Clinton years. Forbes ranks Obama behind Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany; Dilma Rousseft, president of Brazil, and Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Hillary Clinton is fifth on the list.
Michelle Obama often gets more news coverage for her hair and clothes than for her views and actions. Fashion writers loved the dark green dress and jacket she chose for the State of the Union. In wearing the ensemble by Azzedine Alaia, she was giving the Tunisian-born, Paris-based designer a business boost. New York University finance professor David Yermack calculated in a 2010 study that when Mrs. Obama wears an outfit, she creates $14 million in added value for the lucky designer.
I’d like to see her wear American designers – especially on a night when her husband is touting Made in America products. A least the ensemble wasn’t brand new: She’d worn it for a "Nightline” interview and White House tour with Barbara Walters in December 2012.
After the State of the Union, the Obamas hit the road in opposite directions. He set out for Maryland, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Tennessee to build support for his policies. She went on a three-day trip, prospecting for campaign gold in California.
In the Los Angeles home of Phil Rosenthal, creator of “Everybody Loves Raymond,” Mrs. Obama warned that her husband wouldn’t be able to achieve his goals if both houses of Congress go to Republican control in November.
“Let’s be clear: Barack cannot do this alone sitting by himself in the Oval Office,” she said, according to news reports. “So make no mistake about it, it matters who is elected to represent us in Washington. It matters.”
She urged about a crowd of about 200 to “write a big, fat check.” The guests, who included Barbra Streisand and her husband James Brolin, paid as much as $32,400 each to attend the fundraiser benefiting the Democratic National Committee.
Most analysts say the House is likely to remain in Republican hands and the Senate – where six seats could shift the balance -- could go either way. Michelle Obama warned that the health law would be repealed and same-sex marriage threatened if Republicans were in charge on Capitol Hill.
“You can write a check, do you hear me?” she told the crowd, the Los Angeles Times reported. “That’s what you need to do; I’m serious. Write a big, fat check. Write the biggest check you can possibly write.”
That’s one way to fight economic inequality and redistribute wealth. The night’s event reportedly brought in nearly $700,000 for the Democratic Party.
© 2014 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.