Pipe down, Cindy McCain

Nobody wants to see a future first lady catfight. Do they?

Published June 20, 2008 2:35AM (EDT)

Call me naive, but I was surprised to see Cindy McCain hit Michelle Obama a second time for Obama's oft-dissected remark, "For the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country." McCain gave Obama a sly little dig in a campaign appearance back in February, but she hit her again directly in an interview with ABC News airing Thursday morning: "Everyone has their own experience. I don't know why she said what she said; all I know is that I have always been proud of my country."

Cindy, please. Nobody wants to see a future first lady catfight -- do they? I'd have expected Cindy McCain, of all people, to have more empathy for an aspiring first lady's first time in the searing national spotlight. In 2000, after all, McCain had to suffer a Bush-campaign-sponsored whisper campaign about her daughter Bridget (that she was actually her husband's illegitimate black love child), and about her own long-ago addiction to pain medication and subsequent legal troubles. I would have expected McCain to be at least as classy as Laura Bush, who publicly expressed sympathy about the way Obama's "proud" remark was being abused politically.

Meanwhile, the husbands are getting into the act, trading barbs for not coming to the defense of the other's spouse. I think Barack Obama is on higher ground here (although the chivalry sweepstakes is almost as irksome to me as the first lady catfight; fellas, these women can defend themselves). John McCain is ridiculously attacking Obama for not standing up for Cindy when the Democratic National Committee demanded she release more tax data. That's silly: Cindy McCain's taxes are fair game; her fortune is inextricably tied to John McCain's political fortunes. (Likewise, scrutinizing Michelle Obama's legal and advocacy career is entirely appropriate.)

But playing gotcha with each other's misunderstood campaign statements seems beneath both potential first ladies. Michelle Obama wins by not playing, and the McCain campaign looks desperate. It's true Michelle Obama may be one of Barack Obama's few seeming vulnerabilities; a recent Rasmussen poll found that while 48 percent of Americans polled have favorable views of her, a bizarrely high 42 percent have unfavorable views. But there's plenty of time for that to change. I'd urge the Obama camp to go light on the rhetoric of "makeovers" and product relaunches when the subject is Michelle Obama -- this otherwise flattering New York Times profile suffered from that tone. It leaves the impression there's something defective about Michelle Obama and risks turning her into New Coke.

By Joan Walsh

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2008 Elections Michelle Obama