Monday, June 23, 2008

Michelle Obama’s “downright mean” America

Last Friday I posted Black judges, lawyers cheer Wright, Pfleger.

I subsequently commented on the post’s thread. Among other things, I responded to a commenter who said other commenters here were making JinC into a “Hate Obama” blog.

I said in part:
There are many people who comment here who respect Ms. Obama's right on go on The View and explain what panty hose (sic) do to her.

But they would rather she explain what she meant when she said America is "a downright mean country."
That drew a response from a commenter who insisted:
Mrs. Obama did not say America is "a downright mean country"!
Obviously, I didn’t want to say Michelle Obama said America is “a downright mean country” unless she in fact said that.

A subsequent commenter weighed in with:
Just for the record, The New Yorker magazine, in a puff-piece about Mrs. Obama dated Mar 10, 2008 quoted her as saying "America is a downright mean country." She said it in Jan, 2008 at the Pee Dee Union Baptist Church in Cheraw, SC. If she didn't say that, she's got a bone to pick with The New Yorker.
I Googled “Michelle Obama” and “downright mean country.” Among the hits was one for The New Yorker’s Mar. 10, 2008 article which the commenter above cited – Lauren Collins admiring The Other Obama: Michelle Obama and the politics of candor.

Here’s an extract from page 3 of Collins 10-page article, with my comments following below the star line.

… After warming up the crowd, Obama launched into her stump speech, a forty-five-minute monologue that she composed herself and delivers without notes. Obama has been open about the value of her ability to speak to black audiences in cadences that reflect their experience, but she makes clear her distaste for the notion that she is a niche tool, wielded by her husband’s campaign to woo black voters solely on the basis of their shared racial identity.

“I mean, I’ve been to every early state,” she told me, when I asked her about reports that she was “deployed” in the South to reach black audiences. “I was ‘deployed’ to Iowa,” she said, making air quotes with her fingers. “I was ‘deployed’ to New Hampshire.”

The four times I heard her give the speech—in a ballroom at the University of South Carolina, from the pulpit of Pee Dee Union, at an art gallery in Charleston, and in the auditorium of St. Norbert College, in De Pere, Wisconsin—its content was admirably consistent, with few of the politician’s customary tweaks and nods to the demographic predilections, or prejudices, of a particular audience. (all emphasis added)

Obama begins with a broad assessment of life in America in 2008, and life is not good: we’re a divided country, we’re a country that is “just downright mean,” we are “guided by fear,” we’re a nation of cynics, sloths, and complacents. “We have become a nation of struggling folks who are barely making it every day,” she said, as heads bobbed in the pews. “Folks are just jammed up, and it’s gotten worse over my lifetime. And, doggone it, I’m young. Forty-four!”

From these bleak generalities, Obama moves into specific complaints. Used to be, she will say, that you could count on a decent education in the neighborhood. But now there are all these charter schools and magnet schools that you have to “finagle” to get into. (Obama herself attended a magnet school, but never mind.) Health care is out of reach (“Let me tell you, don’t get sick in America”), …

Collins' entire article’s here.



One of the things I like best about the Internet is the capacity it gives us to locate and link to source documents.

In this case that capacity leaves no doubt that three months ago The New Yorker reported Michelle Obama said America is “just downright mean.”

As to whether The New Yorker misquoted Michelle Obama, I could find nothing where she or the Obama campaign denied she’d said America is “just downright mean.”

And I could find nothing from Senator Obama such as “That’s not the Michelle Obama I know.”

Message to Obama supporters: Many of you may hate it when people ask why Michelle Obama thinks America’s “downright mean” and why she and her husband took their children to a virulent, anti-American racist pastor’s church for their religious instruction, but those are legitimate and extremely important questions we should all be asking the Obamas before we decide how we’ll vote in November.

Message to all of you: I don’t ever mean to misquote anyone. When you think I have, don’t hesitate to call it to my attention.


RedMountain said...

America can be downright mean sometimes. In response to a question at a town hall meeting John McCain said this: "I’ll admit to you that it’s tough, it’s tough in some respects," McCain said, seeming to lend credence to Michelle Obama's observation.

McCain said America needed to be "more humble, more inclusive."

The question that was asked of John McCain was "How can I be proud of my country?"

My personal opinion is that I am glad to see honesty from both of these folks. McCain has also admitted he "didn't love America" until he became a POW. I certainly don't want to vote for anyone who thinks things are all fine and dandy in this country.

I suspect that both the Obamas and McCains see a lot of room for improvement in our country. In my opinion, that is a good thing.

Anonymous said...


=>America can be downright mean sometimes.<=

I couldn't agree more. Case in point: the Durham/Duke frameup.

How's Obama going to change that?


Anonymous said...

Mark, this NATION is not downright mean- there are some individuals who are mean. There are crooks and incompetents and con artists and heroes and humble servants and a few saints. The nature of this country is not to be mean-spirited or evil. The nature of this country is what has brought immigrant after immigrant to its shores to find freedom to worship, freedom to succeed or fail, freedom to disagree as I disagree with you and with the Obamas.

Words do count and both of the Obamas have the education and training to know that. The practice of law is, ultimately, about words. Integrity matters.

Texas Mom

Anonymous said...

John -

Excellent posting. If I may add my 2 cents, - America is not the only country in this world. There are about 160 or so others. If people find America such a mean country, and they don't like the health care, and they don't like the education, and they don't like the competitiveness, and they don't like the free speech, and they don't like the equality of opportunity (mostly) then I suggest they sample the other 160 or so. No one is forcing anyone to stay here. Feel free to leave at a moment's notice.

As for me, my antecedents fled tyranny in Europe. Was America perfect - not by a long shot. But it was a lot better than the alternatives. And remember - perfection is the enemy of the good. Some people who attempt to attain utopia sometimes don't see the unintended consequences of what happens when trying to get there. They end up in the land of dystopia.

Jack in Silver Spring

Anonymous said...

My only comment, “What took you so long?”
Drudge Report Headline:

Obama campaign drops 'presidential' seal on podium...

WASHINGTON - After days of media mockery, Barack Obama has decided to stop using a presidential-looking seal that his campaign designed and affixed to his podium on Friday.

“What a bizarre and dumb idea,” railed NBC political director Chuck Todd. “It really feeds the arrogance narrative.”

Anonymous said...

“America can be downright mean sometimes,” and let’s start with Trinity Church in Chicago.

Rev. Wright called Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice a "Skeeza". That is probably what Michelle Obama meant, that was mean.

Google: Condi-"skeeza" Rice. I know it is difficult to believe.

JWM said...


Michelle Obama did say America is "a downright mean country" and John McCain has said often he really didn't love America until her spent more than 5 years as a POW.

There's a difference between the two statements.

That said, I hope Michelle Obama gets many opportunities to tell us why she thinks America is "a downright mean country."

Let's hope Senator Obama and leaders such as John Edwards, Al Sharpton, Nancy Pelosi, Bill Ayers, Maxine Waters, Bill Moyers and Jamie Gorelick spend plenty of time between now and November talking about whether America really is "a downright mean country."

And I hope John McCain gets many opportunities to tell us how he came to really love America while a POW.


Good question.

To Texas Mom,

"Words do count and both of the Obamas have the education and training to know that. The practice of law is, ultimately, about words. Integrity matters."

You bet.

One of my worries with both Obama's is they're so quick to whine.

Good leaders aren't that way.

To JinSS,

Yes to all you say.


BillyB said...

Perhaps Michelle meant that America is downright Excellent!.

You know, like when you say, "Wow Jimmy, that was a MEAN backhand."

Or perhaps she meant America is in the Middle, so far as the rest of the world is concerned. Some are worse, some are better. America is the MEAN, sorta like the mean family income.

I'm sure Michelle didn't mean that America is hateful or evil.

(removing tongue from cheek)