I heard this the other day and wasn't going to say anything because, well, there's no point in jumping on everything. But it turns out that this is part of the stump speech --- he said it again today --- and that's a problem:
If we're willing to do something in a balanced way--making some tough choices in terms of spending cuts, but also raising some revenue from folks who've done very well, even in a tough economy--then we can get control of our debt and deficit and we can start still investing in things like education and basic research and infrastructure that are going to make sure that our future is bright. It's not that complicated, but it does require everybody being willing to make some compromises.
I was in Holland, Michigan, the other day and I said, "I don't know about how things work in your house, but in my house if I said, 'You know, Michelle, honey, we got to cut back, so we're going to have you stop shopping completely--you can't buy shoes, you can't buy dresses--but I'm keeping my golf clubs'--you know, that wouldn't go over so well."
Where to begin. First of all, once again, he's not actually talking about a "balanced approach." If he were he'd be proposing to tax the living hell out of corporations and wealthy individuals, not asking for some token tip money in exchange for cutting a big hole in the safety net. It's not "shared sacrifice" to ask wealthy people to give up money they will not even miss in exchange for asking 65 year olds to wait an additional two years before qualifying for Medicare. In some cases, that's going to be the difference between life and death. Telling people they have to give up any part of the only real form of security they have in their old age when they can no longer work, in order to get millionaires to pay what they paid in taxes only a decade ago, is not "balanced."
Be that as it may, we have a Democratic president selling the idea that it's a big "sacrifice" for the wealthiest people to pay their fair share of taxes and I guess there's no going back. But what can we say about that horrible analogy between his marriage and his dealings with congress?
I hate the family metaphor anyway, but this iteration of it -- arguing over whether the little woman gets to buy shoes and dresses or not --- takes the absurdity to a new level. Evidently the president thinks that these drastic cuts in discretionary spending --- most of which hit the most vulnerable people in the nation --- are comparable to a fashionista having to cut back on her trips to Bloomingdales. And worse, the problem with all this is when hubbie won't give up golfing in exchange.
I think somebody's been watching a little too much Mad Men lately. (Or I Love Lucy.) Who talks this way in America today other than rich Beverly Hills throwbacks with a trophy wife and a bad divorce? And the president is bizarrely identifying himself with these rich people.
Michelle Obama is an accomplished woman and the mere idea of her having to answer to her husband for her spending on "shoes and dresses" rubs me the wrong way. I'm sure he would explain that this is supposed to be a mutual kitchen table budget discussion, but the whole thing is so freighted with sexist 1950s stereotypes that what comes to mind is a Dagwood strip rather than anything recognizable in 2011. It reminds me of Bush saying that he sent Laura early to Crawford to "sweep off the porch." Or more recently, Rick Perry apologizing for his wrinkled shirt and saying not to blame his wife. I wish all of them would stop.
Finally, let's think about the way the President frames the Democrats in this argument as the wives who have reluctantly agreed to give up their frilly little dresses and the Republicans as the stern husbands who nevertheless insist that they get to keep their golf clubs. Ok, daddy's a prick who won't pitch in. But he's also the Man of the House, who the little lady Democrats are pouting about not being fair --- but giving in to in the end. Because he's in charge.
Let's just say it's not a very appealing image.
I hate to make tooo big a deal out of this. It's just a passing comment in a long speech. But this family metaphor is destructive enough without attaching a whole boatload of additional sexist and classist freight to it. Obama and his political advisors have always had a bit of a tin ear when it comes to this sort of thing and they need to get a handle on it if they don't want to appear to be totally out of touch out there. This metaphor should go into the garbage bin immediately.