I'm not a fan of Barack Obama and certainly don't intend to vote for him in November. But I can't help admire him for what he has been able to achieve: to rise from political obscurity to becoming the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee to (quite possibly) the next President of the United States in just a little over a year. That is a remarkable achievement for any candidate. Yet I keep getting the feeling that despite all that the Senator has achieved, he is not ready to be President.
Yesterday, the Senator lashed out at the Tennessee GOP for posting a video that criticized his wife, Michelle Obama, for saying "For the first timein my adult life, I am really proud of my country." The Senator said to them, "Lay off my wife" in a television interview.
As a husband, I understand that you're first impulse is to protect and defend your wife when she is criticized. I respect him for his desire to protect Michelle. But implied in his response is that his wife is "off limits" and that it would be wrong for anyone to criticize her.
Traditionally, political spouses have remained in the background in campaigns. If they came out to make a speech, it would usually be no more than simply encouraging people to vote for their significant other. That political dynamic changed in 1992 with Bill Clinton's first campaign for the White House. By voting for him, voters were told that they were getting "two presidents for the price of one" and that Hillary would be as central a figure in a Clinton administration as Bill would. We certainly saw this when Bill appointed Hillary as head of his health care task force in 1993.
When politicians' spouses start making political statements such as the one Michelle Obama did when she said that for the first time in her adult life she was proud of her country, they insert themselves into the campaign and become fair game for criticism. Theresa Heinz Kerry learned this lesson the hard way in 2004 when she said that Laura Bush had never held a real job.
Senator Obama is a very gifted politician and perhaps one of the most talented to come along in a long time. His meteoric rise has been due not only to his extensive skills but also to a fawning media that has been willing to give him a pass on tough questions. As a result, the Senator seems to have become used to being treated with kid gloves on the campaign trail. His reaction yesterday to criticism of his wife gives further evidence that he is perhaps a little too thin-skinned to be President. After all, if you want to be elected to the toughest job in the world, you need to be prepared to deal with the criticism that comes with it.