Home » Our Columns

Obama: Words matter, except when spoken by his wife

Dennis Byrne 23 February 2008 7 Comments

Earl Bush, press secretary to Mayor Malaprop, the late Richard J. Daley, once famously criticized reporters for printing what Da Mare said, not what he meant.

Apparently, the same rule applies to Michelle Obama, who was so moved by the success of her husband’s presidential campaign that she enthused that for the first time in her life she’s proud of her country. Nice.

She and her husband Barack Obama quickly backfilled, to make us think that we didn’t hear the words she spoke, or that she spoke words she didn’t mean. Barack said her statement was taken out of context (our fault, apparently, for listening to the words) saying she meant that she was proud of American politics because “she’s pretty cynical about the political process, and with good reason, and she’s not alone. But she has seen large numbers of people get involved in the process, and she’s encouraged.”

One is inclined to take that all this for what it’s worth—balderdash—and move on to something more important.

Until Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell came along to explain it all: “Michelle Obama was forced to explain she didn’t really mean she wasn’t proud of America. That’s unfortunate. She should have stuck to her truth.”

So, was her first statement—that she had gone a lifetime without a moment of pride in her country—the “truth” that she should have stuck with? Was the “unfortunate” part the fact that Michelle was “forced” to recant? Is Mitchell saying that Michelle was right to not have had a moment of pride in her country? And what should we make of the odd construction of sticking to “her” truth, as if everyone has his or her own truth, making everyone’s truth—even if they are contradictory “truths”—as good as anyone else’s truth?

Maybe this was just another successful attempt by Mitchell to keep the rest of us (angry, white men) off balance by losing us in her mind’s thicket?

One can accept the explanation that America’s past of slavery and Jim Crow is one of history’s monumental outrages. One cannot argue with the idea that justice and compassion compels us to care for the least of those among us, as we are instructed by God’s word.

But one cannot accept so easily the notion that we had to wait for Obama to come around before we could feel good about our nation’s accomplishments. One should be allowed a sliver of pride about how America defeated, either by arms or a free-market, democratic system, the most ruthless tyrannies of the right and the left the world has ever seen.


Dennis Byrne is a regular columnist for the Chicago Daily Observer and a member of the Editorial Board.


  • C Watson (author) said:

    This is so petty, it’s silly. I think dwelling on such trivial stuff speaks more for the people who do it than anything Michelle Obama did or did not say.

    I’ve just wasted a minute of my life reading this tripe.

  • jim (author) said:

    another attempt to take one quote and zero in, blowing it out of proportion, and taking it completely out of context. all sides are guilty of this in politics… not just the left or the right. it’s just plain stupid. everything else is ignored, and this is the stuff that anti-whoever focuses on, trying to use this crap to influence their decisions, rather than looking at substance. i mean, come on… you wrote an entire article on this! if you have an issue with obama, explain an issue with his policy, his record, etc. i agree, this is just petty. school yard crap.

  • Dan Kelley (author) said:

    No, what is so scary is Michelle Obama’s thesis paper written while she was at Princeton and now off limits to the public. This affirmative action, daughter of privilege and preferences, has views on race relations that square neatly with those of Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell. The USA and its majority population are always to blame for every social ill. If these radical ideas of the Obamas were more widely known, Barry Obama could not be elected dogcatcher.

  • Hugh L. (author) said:

    Michelle Obama said: “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.”

    Why is everyone forgetting that she said “REALLY proud?” It could’ve meant for the first time in her adult life, she is ESPECIALLY proud of America. Maybe it was the realization that her children could be the first generation in American history to be able to the view other people for “the content of the character,” nothing more, nothing less. Maybe she meant that she is very happy that Americans are ready to turn the page on this divisive era of politics. But hey, I guess we all should assume the worst possible connotation: that Michelle is a left-wing, unpatriotic, America hater.

    I’m sure we can all be responsible enough to acknowledge that her comment does not form a basis for these trumped up charges!

    Many conservatives want to make an issue of the Obamas’ patriotism, or perceived lack there-of. Why? Because there are some pictures of Sen. Obama without his hand over his heart while reciting the Pledge of Allegiance? Because he discontinued wearing an American flag lapel pin? How many of the people leveling these charges have asked Sen. Obama, or researched his logic behind these matters?

    Well if you haven’t asked, here is what he said: wearing the pin had come to seem like a “substitute for true patriotism.”

    I think he’s right on this one. Wearing an American Flag lapel pin does not constitute patriotism; working to make America a better place, a country that is universally admired is.

    There is also an argument being made that if you question America’s behavior- torture, the war with Iraq, warrantless wiretapping, and a litany of similar issues- then you’re unpatriotic. Let’s wake up, people!

    As Americans we have a way seeing ourselves as the leaders of the free world; the example that all should unquestionably follow. This position is not a highly toxic matter in and of itself. The belief- which all too often accompanies this sentiment- that we are not accountable to anyone, including ourselves, for our actions is completely ridiculous. Much of the world is angry with us for just this reason. Leaders should reflect on their behavior and try to carry themselves in a manner fitting of such a title.

    There are many issues on which one can criticize Sen. Obama: Does he have enough experience? Is he a tax and spend liberal? Even questioning his involvement with Rezko has more basis than these charges against his patriotism. We as Americans should not allow our candidates and the media to shove real issues to the backburner. One cannot question that both McCain and Obama love our country, so let’s get about the business of choosing the best leader for our country!

  • Lili (author) said:

    Dan Kelley, as someone who was associated with Princeton for years, I can tell you that a public figure’s thesis needs to be protected from theft and damage. Can you imagine what might happen to the manuscript if every political reporter in the country paid Firestone Library for access privileges and attempted to get his or her hands on the thing? Moreover, there’s no reason why an undergraduate thesis written 20-odd years ago should play any role in Michelle Obama’s husband’s campaign. Believe me, those theses are not documents of earth-shattering importance.

  • John Powers (author) said:

    “as someone who was associated with Princeton for years, I can tell you that a public figure’s thesis needs to be protected from theft and damage” Doesn’t Princeton have a copy machine?


  • Teri B. (author) said:

    Great catch!:)

    What is the value of words?

    Sen. Barack Obama defended the value of words recently with a “line” given to him by Gov. Deval Patrick: “Don’t tell me words don’t matter. ‘I have a dream’—just words? ‘We the people hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal’—just words? ‘We have nothing to fear but fear itself’—just words? Just speeches?”

    Sen. Obama often quotes great men, giants of humanity like Martin Luther King, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, men like our nation’s founding fathers. Were their words, just words? Oh no, not hardly, these are the words of men, who risked their very lives for the ideals and principles their words represented. Men who faced down tyranny and hatred, faced down muskets and Japanese destroyers in the horror of bloody war and battle, faced down firehoses and billy clubs, with the courage and conviction to not only speak those words but heroically defend the principles they espoused, principles such as freedom and equality. Their words have value and meaning and resonance because of who they were, what they’d risked, what they’d sacrificed, what they’d achieved, and what they fought for. No those men, their words weren’t merely eloquent and inspiring. They weren’t merely words. Sen. Obama is correct about that. Those men’s words were the embodiment of all that is fine and noble in the human species. Their words are as heavy and as solid the as freedom they represented.

    When John F. Kennedy wrote Profiles In Courage, it wasn’t fine merely because of the eloquence of the words, but because of the valor and sacrifices he’d made on behalf of the ideas his words embodied. When Dr. King made speeches, those speeches were anchored with the mighty weight of unflinching courage, in bold defiance of oppression and prejudice. Just putting voice to those words put him in mortal jeapordy, as did the founding fathers’ words.

    These men’s words Sen. Obama quotes weren’t vague or manipulative or self-serving or hollow, and quoting the words of great men, doesn’t make one great, or right, or noble, or worthy by association. Those things must be earned, as they earned them.

    So yes, words matter, but not merely the words themselves, but the men who speak them matter just as much. Perhaps one day Sen. Obama’s words will have earned that stature, but not yet.

Leave your response!

Add your comment below, or trackback from your own site. You can also subscribe to these comments via RSS.

Be nice. Keep it clean. Stay on topic. No spam.

You can use these tags:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

This is a Gravatar-enabled weblog. To get your own globally-recognized-avatar, please register at Gravatar.