Thunder, Lightning, the way you hug me is frightening

Someone, somewhere, was deeply offended by Michelle Obama touching the queen of England -- just not the queen herself.

Published April 3, 2009 1:40PM (EDT)

Michelle Obama's famous arms have gotten her in trouble again, this time because one of them -- no word on whether it was Thunder or Lightning -- went and touched the queen of England. And someone, somewhere, is really upset about this, even though it's kind of hard to say who. The Daily Telegraph in Australia says it's the British press up in arms (haw!), while the Independent in the U.K. says it was Americans who "recoiled in horror." Meanwhile, the only person whose opinion really matters, the queen herself, seems unperturbed. According to the Independent, a spokesperson for the Palace described it as "a mutual and spontaneous display of affection and appreciation between the queen and Michelle Obama." Oh, the drama!

So who, exactly, has been scandalized by this breach of apparently nonexistent protocol? Alex Koppelman gave us an idea in War Room yesterday: conservative bloggers who were no fans of the Obamas to begin with. Other than that, every mention I've seen of the so-called gaffe (in an admittedly cursory search) has been along the lines of, "She didn't really do anything wrong -- especially since the queen touched her first -- but, you know, some people are saying she did something wrong." Could it be that some people are looking for any excuse to cast the first lady as a boor? It's hard not to think so, when this comes so close on the heels of the tempest in a proper teapot over Michelle Obama's gift to Prime Minister Gordon Brown's children: toy models of the presidential helicopter, Marine One. According to the Times of London, the presents were "solipsistic," "inherently dismissive of Mrs. Brown," and evidence that the first lady "spent approximately three seconds contemplating the needs of the Brown boys." Sarah Brown's gifts of dresses and necklaces for Malia and Sasha, on the other hand, were "lovely" and "chosen in the true spirit of present-giving: to please the recipient, not the giver." Apparently, in the U.K., little boys are bored by toy helicopters and little girls find gifts of clothing picked out by a stranger ('s staff) thrilling -- who knew? Not Michelle!

The eagerness of some people to catch Obama in an etiquette gaffe is working my last good nerve. If someone can tell me how this notion -- that an Ivy League-educated, upper-class woman who's spent years as both a successful professional and a politician's wife has no clue how to conduct herself in public -- could be anything other than a load of racist hooey, I'm all ears. In the meantime, I'm with Michelle Obama Watch: "Our First Lady is a hugger and we love her for it." Check out the gallery of Michelle hugs over there -- if there's anyone who could stir Queen Elizabeth to a "spontaneous display of affection," surely, it's her.

By Kate Harding

Kate Harding is the author of Asking For It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture--and What We Can Do About It, available from Da Capo Press in August 2015. Previously, she collaborated with Anna Holmes, Amanda Hess, and a cast of thousands on The Book of Jezebel, and with Marianne Kirby on Lessons from the Fat-o-Sphere. You might also remember her as the founding editor of Shapely Prose (2007-2010). Kate's essays have appeared in the anthologies Madonna & Me, Yes Means Yes, Feed Me, and Airmail: Women of Letters. She holds an M.F.A. in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts and a B.A. in English from University of Toronto, and is currently at work on a Ph.D. in creative writing from Bath Spa University

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