Michelle: Women "crushed" by healthcare

The first lady tries to humanize -- and mommify -- the case for reform

Published September 18, 2009 10:30PM (EDT)

Word yesterday that Michelle Obama would soon speak out on healthcare raised concern -- and, in other corners, giddy excitement -- that we were in for "Hillarycare" redux. When the first lady gave a speech Friday morning on the matter, though, her focus wasn't so much policy as it was people, and women in particular. With a wavering voice, Obama dramatically declared that women are being "crushed" by our current healthcare system.

She told stories about how women across this country are being discriminated against by insurance companies because of their gender and denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions, like having had a C-section. "This is still shocking to me," she said. "These are the kind of facts that still wake me up at night." She argued that women are hit hardest by medical issues because of the caretaker role they play within families, as well as their tendency to have part-time jobs in the world at large that don't offer insurance.

We have heard these kinds of examples repeatedly in recent weeks -- in fact, so frequently that I've worried they're being drained of their emotional impact. But Obama managed to bring these stories home, launching into a story about Sasha falling ill when she was four-months-old. "We were terrified," she continued. "I think about what on earth would we have done if we had not had insurance."  Sure, Obama may have the resources and privilege most people can only dream of, but she has experienced the terror of having a sick child in need of immediate care.

Some will be disappointed that she presented herself as the "mom-in-chief" and didn't fully flex her political muscles with this speech. There is no doubt that the first lady could just as easily have given a policy talk,  but this game has to be played from all angles. Today she focused on her role as a wife and mother; maybe tomorrow she will play the part of a policy wonk. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we allowed her to be both things at once?

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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