Thursday, April 09, 2009

She doesn't get paid?

Mad About Michelle, by Katha Pollitt, The Nation. Emphases mine.

Just after the election Rebecca Traister wrote a terrific piece in Salon lamenting the "momification" of Michelle Obama. Probably it was inevitable: "In part because of the legacy left her by Hillary and her detractors," Traister observed, "powerful couples must now tread as far as possible from the 'two for one' talk, lest the female half get smacked with a nutcracker." Besides, there was that Angry Black Woman image to banish. It might have been politically necessary, and for all I know Michelle Obama is having the time of her life--unlike most professional women who take (let's hope) eight years off, she doesn't have to worry about the cost to her career. Some days I think just being a highly visible admirable black woman is a social cause all by itself, given how little of that side of black life most white Americans see. Still, there's something depressing about the joy and relief with which the high-end media have greeted Michelle's makeover from accomplished professional and outspoken social critic to new-traditionalist homebody. They're not only not ready for Hillary Clinton, they're apparently not even ready for Eleanor Roosevelt.

In the American Prospect, Dana Goldstein recently argued that being first lady should be treated like the job it is and awarded a salary. Michelle is "a public face of the Obama administration," working behind the scenes to rally support for her husband's programs--and she endures a schedule of ceremonial duties and photo ops that would put most women on Prozac and that are not optional. She can't decide to skip dinner with the Democratic chairmen of Congressional committees and watch TV with the girls instead. If first ladies were paid--Goldstein suggests that the money could come from lowering the president's $400,000 salary--we might respect them more.

Meanwhile, we should be counting ourselves lucky that Michelle Obama is working for free and let her wear whatever she wants.

I don't think the First Lady's salary should come from cutting the President's salary. I'm sure our national budget could do with a few less $400 ashtrays. Michelle Obama's salary from her last job as head of community affairs for the University of Chicago Hospitals was $273,618. That is equivalent to 685 ashtrays. Or half the cost of a Tomahawk missile.

It would be a bargain, considering that the First Lady probably does the jobs of at least ten people combined. At an average Washington, DC, salary of $72,000 (as of April 9 2009), the position of First Lady would be worth $720,000. That's new math for you. Plus, everyone at the White House--excluding the children, the dog, and Grandma--is on salary except for Michelle Obama. Yet she has one of the biggest jobs there. How far we have come.


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