First lady's holiday backlash

When Michelle Obama decided to book a holiday in Spain to unwind with her younger daughter Sasha and some friends, she could never have imagined that by the end of the vacation she would have attracted comparisons with the extravagance of Marie-Antoinette.

Obama's "private" holiday in Marbella coincided with the release of worsening jobless statistics in the United States.

Cue media storm back home where it was noticed that to protect the privacy of her 40-strong entourage, Spanish police had cordoned off a public beach.

The FLOTUS, (First Lady of the US) is used to media coverage, but since she took to the dancefloor with her husband in a white one-shoulder gown at an inauguration ball it has been nothing short of adoring.

She even counts the Queen among her admirers: not only was she allowed to hug the monarch, breaking royal protocol during a visit to Britain last year, but to the world's astonishment the Queen hugged her back.

Now the questions are coming fast and furious as to why she is taking so many holidays, how much of the bill will be footed by taxpayers, and why the first family has not holidayed in the Gulf of Mexico in sympathy with communities stricken by the BP oil spill.

In fact they will stop in Florida at the end of this week on their way to Martha's Vineyard, but even this latter exclusive destination has provoked unpleasant media comment as though the country's first black President is somehow getting ideas above his station.

Until now, Michelle Obama has not put a foot wrong. Her approval ratings place her consistently above her husband, who remains in the polling doldrums with around 47 per cent, and ahead of the most popular Democratic politicians including both Hillary and Bill Clinton.

Her compassionate side has been on view during visits to the Gulf of Mexico after the oil spill, and Haiti after the disastrous earthquake last April. But above all she has been praised for identifying the cause of childhood obesity as the single issue that she will champion from the bully pulpit of the White House.

Michelle Obama, who is on record as initially opposing her husband's presidential bid, fearing the effect on their family life, was not destined for an easy ride as first lady. She is a strong woman who speaks her mind and does not shrink from put-downs of her husband, whom she once mentored while a corporate lawyer in their native Chicago.

During the campaign she was flayed by Republicans for a comment during a rally: "For the first time in my adult lifetime, I'm really proud of my country." Things became more difficult after a purported tape surfaced in which the wife of the Democratic candidate allegedly poured scorn on "whitey" America , prompting Barack Obama to ask his rivals to "lay off my wife".

Since arriving in the White House with her mother in tow, she has kept her head down and followed a carefully calibrated strategy.

First, a Vogue magazine cover in March last year vaunted her much admired fashion sense. Two months later, she dug up the White House South Lawn and planted vegetables to highlight healthy living.

In London for the G20 summit, she hugged black girls at a school and urged them to study, as she began to emerge as a role model for young African Americans. Then came her "Let's Move" campaign against childhood obesity, affecting one in five Americans today and with black children at greatest risk.

In the September edition of the Ladies' Home Journal, she promotes the campaign, but she also confesses that: "Finding balance has been the struggle of my life and my marriage, in being a woman, being a professional, being a mother."

Unfortunately for Obama, the sympathetic magazine portrait will now be overshadowed by that holiday in Marbella which led to the New York Daily News commenting that she is out of touch with the common people. It is a far cry from being compared to former first lady Jackie Kennedy to be likened to a "modern day Marie-Antoinette."

- NZ Herald

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