Dear Mrs. Obama,
Have you let your husband out of your sight since Saturday?
The look on your face during the moment of silence for the Tucson shooting victims spoke volumes to me. You look grimly terrified in the pictures. You look like a woman who is willing to throw herself in front of a bullet aimed at her man or her kids.
You look like a woman who thinks you will someday have to do it.
When I watched you grasp hands with Captain Kelly at the memorial for the victims of the massacre who passed and the tribute to Representative Giffords and the others who were wounded, you look liked like you knew you were reaching out to a man who is a member of a club who are afraid you may someday join. A club peopled with the likes of Nancy Reagan, Yoko Ono, Sarah Brady. You looked like you were thinking “That could be me. Will it be me?”
Way back during the campaign, the one you may not have wanted to be part of, when the criticism got very tense and very personal, you reportedly asked Valarie Jarret “Why would they try to make people hate us?”. Why, indeed. It didn’t make sense then and it doesn’t make sense now. So many people were out there spewing terrible, terrible things about you and your husband – and they do it to this day – and you knew that those words could put you in danger. The danger of being attacked physically, the danger of watching your husband attacked physically, the danger that an assassin might succeed and your girls would lose a parent. The fear that a character assassin would succeed and your girls would lose their trust in the world. Because how could children trust a world full of people who say unfair, untrue things about their very real, very human, Mommy and Daddy?
In all this talk about civility and mending the tone of our discourse I think you might be the best messenger to remind us of the key fact about so many of those we criticize in open space: you have children who hear. When you made the choice to take your family into politics, as you and your husband did, you chose to educate your daughters on the practice of dissent. I imagine you can easily explain to them why leaders of the opposition party say things about the policy choices and political priorities your husband’s administration embraces. But how to do explain what critics say about him as a person? Moreover, how do you explain what they say about you as a person, you who aren’t a politician at all? And how do any of us justify saying terrible things about public figures when it’s possible that their kids will hear it? Looking at you this week, I’m suddenly very ashamed of every ad hominem insult I’ve ever lobbed at an elected official or celebrity who has kids.
I took a moment last week to chat with the mother of another child. He was tired as we were chatting and wrapped his chubby arms around her neck and laid his little face on her shoulder and she was rocking him a bit as we talked. It was a mother-son interaction I’ve been part of myself hundreds of times with my own child. The only difference between us in that moment is that there is almost no chance that my son will be subject to hearing character assassination of me some time in his future. But the angelic little blonde boy who rested his cheek on his mother’s shoulder that night may someday read terrible things about his Mommy because she is a politician.
You already know how that feels, don’t you?
I’m sorry it took such an horrific set of events to remind me that talking smack about someone’s mama is not good manners. I’m sorry it was the image of your strong, determined face as you walked in the shadow of what must be your worst nightmare that was my clarion call. But I hope this is a crossroads for all of us to be kinder to everyone.