Saturday, March 28, 2009

Filing Cabinet: Barack and the Party Favors

This is an item I've been meaning to revisit and then try to forget since early 2008, when I first encountered Barack Obama’s 2006 memoir The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream:

It is left to Michelle to coordinate all the children’s activities, which she does with a general’s efficiency. When I can, I volunteer to help, which Michelle appreciates, although she is careful to limit my responsibilities. The day before Sasha’s birthday party this past June, I was told to procure twenty balloons, enough cheese pizza to feed twenty kids, and ice. This seemed manageable, so when Michelle told me that she was going to get goody bags to hand out at the end of the party, I suggested that I do that was well. She laughed.

“You can’t handle goody bags,” she said. “Let me explain the goody bag thing. You have to go into the party store and choose the bags. Then you have to choose what to put in the bags and what is in the boys’ bags has to be different from what is in the girls’ bags. You’d walk in there and wander around the aisles for an hour, and then your head would explode.”

—p. 349-50, Vintage paperback edition
When I first read this, I wondered if it had implications for Obama’s style of governance. I’d read that he’d been encouraged not to establish a track record as a politician, since that would make him less electable. When forced to make actual choices, would he get lost in the aisles of options?

Furthermore: What did this anecdote say about the Obamas’ views on gender roles? I’d read that Michelle could recite episodes from The Dick van Dyke Show, and there was, in fact, a certain resemblance between the Obamas and Dick van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore. They were supposed to be so hip, and yet they seemed so retro. Was that such a bad thing? I like a lot of old-fashioned values, even if pink and blue goody bags make me nervous.

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