Michelle Obama, Ann Romney—a study in contrasts

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WASHINGTON—One is black, the other white. One was born into wealth, the other came from a working class family in Chicago.

As with the two presidential candidates, their wives – Ann Romney and First Lady Michelle Obama – provide a stark study in contrasts, in an election year in which a preference for one or the other presidential spouse could have more weight than usual with the November 6 election outcome expected to be close.

Both women are viewed as gracious, effective advocates for their husbands, Democratic US President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Political experts say that people vote for the president – not their partner on the home front.

But the first lady helps to fill in important blanks, and to complete public perceptions as voters try to make of their minds about whom to pick for the White House.

That, said Catherine Allgor, a professor at the University of California, Riverside, is why people listened with rapt attention to the speech delivered by Ann Romney last week at the Republican National Convention in Tampa.

“Americans believe that these women can testify to the true man, that the way he conducts himself in his private life – as a husband as a father as a manager of family affairs – testifies to his morality and true character,” Allgor told AFP.

They likely will be just as attentive when Michelle Obama delivers her testimonial speech praising the president at the Democrats’ convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, later this week.

The first lady has a role in American politics unlike the spouse married to the head of state in other countries. She can be a political force to be reckoned with in her own right.

Some believe it would be nearly impossible for a president to be accepted by the US public without a spouse and help-mate at his side. For all that, the position – one of the most influential in Washington – is largely ceremonial and is unpaid.

Allgor, whose specialty is the history of US first ladies, said such testimonials can have the power when they work to help the public revise its view of a candidate.

“It’s very powerful. That’s why these women get up there and talk about their marriages. It is a very powerful thing when someone gets it right,” she said.

New York Times reporter Jodi Kantor, author of the bestselling book “The Obamas,” told US public radio this week that first ladies get to be protected against incoming political fire – even if they lob a grenade or two of their own.

“In Ann Romney’s speech, she began by saying…’this is about love'” – even while uttering a highly political speech.

“The more they seem above the fray, above the politics, the more effective they are,” Kantor said.

The current US first lady is a Princeton and Harvard educated attorney, a career woman who at one point was the main breadwinner in the Obama family. She has embraced various initiatives in the president’s first term, including supporting military families and her “Let’s Move!” initiative to improve kids’ diets and combat childhood obesity.

Ann Romney, 63, has been a stay-at-home mother who never entered the workforce, instead choosing to stay active in parents’ and other civic groups. She has waged years-long struggles with multiple sclerosis – which she has said that her pursuits as an equestrian have helped to control – and breast cancer, which is in remission.

A convert to her husband’s Mormon faith, the businessman’s daughter received a bachelor’s degree in French from Brigham Young University.

Ann Romney is perhaps cut from more traditional, somewhat patrician cloth in terms of how people think of the first lady in years gone by, like the silver-haired pearl-wearing Barbara Bush or the poised, understated Laura Bush.

By contrast, Obama, 48, as the first African-American first lady, has tried to open up the White House to more diverse influences, installing art works there for instance by black artists, and hosting a concert series at the White House that celebrated diverse musical styles, from country to jazz to blues to rock. She is the mother of two daughters.

Obama and Romney have taken opposite views as to whether to watch the opposite party’s convention. Michelle Obama told the “Late Night with David Letterman Show” last week that she did not watch any of the Republican pageant.

“I, as the wife of the guy they are running against, I tend not to watch it,” Obama said on Wednesday night’s show.

Ann Romney, however, told Fox News last week that she would be tuning in to the Democrats’ convention with great interest.

“I want to hear the president speak and I’m assuming Michelle will speak and I want to hear her as well,” the would-be first lady said.

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  • tonybee

    in the first place, is ann romney mitt’s only wife? heard mormons are allowed to practice polygamy if i heard right. if that’s the case wouldn’t ann romney be a first lady and a second or third wife would be second or third lady? just asking.

    • Giorgio

      Ann is Mitts ONE and ONLY wife. Polygamy was outlawed from the OLD Mormon religion many years ago. Though there are some “extreme fringe” groups that still secretly practice it.

    • Eron

      That’s an old practice, dear. Very old. Where have you been hearing things from and who are you listening to? 

    • Juan Luna Ibarrizto

      The Utah SC upheld the ban on polygamy on May 2006. However there are Mormon “breakaway’ sects in Utah who still practice polygamy. Recently there was a show on US TV about a Mormon man and his four wives. It was titled ‘Sister Wives’. In Texas, break away Mormon prophet Warren Jeffs is in prison for child abuse of underage children wives. In British Columbia, Canada Winston Blackmore is still doing polygamy with the provincial courts unable to stop him. You can be sure mushrooms of polygamy will sprout every where when The Mitt becomes President of the USA.

      • Anne Torre

        Did you drink your meds? hallucinogenic opinion.

  • Roberto

    Michelle can’t stomach the truth so she shunned away from all Republican pageant.

  • Giorgio

    Michelle obtained everything by being in the black female category……..Ann is the “real” American wife, mother……..hard worker, raised family, encouraged and supported husband and children, gives great example of strong faith to her family. Ann is a woman to be honored and respected and a real hero or idol that American woman should try to follow.

    • Eron

      As if her being black made things easy for her. Your argument works for Ann. ANd Michelle has done all the things you mentioned. She even had to support her family at one point in time when Barack wasn’t earning. Hello. Think think. 

    • NY_Pinoy

       What is “real”?  Michelle is a Princeton & Harvard-trained lawyer.  She worked while raising two kids — the most typical American way of life.  Ann has never worked in her entire life. 

      I go for Michelle.

  • SolitaJ

     I go for Michelle. She came from the working class, worked her way up, is resilient and even managed to be a breadwinner. She’s an empowered woman!

    • D Vee

      No she did not work her way up. It is sad to say that for the sake of diversity in america, people of color like was given an opportunity despite other well qualified professionals. I have worked  and still working with black co-employees and I know very well their subculture. what you see in the liberal media about her and barry is not what you think they are. 

  • Juan Luna Ibarrizto

     Did you just ask ‘Who’s the most Fabulous First Lady’ ? Last time I checked Michelle Obama is the present First Lady of the US. Ann Romney was First Lady of Massachusetts from 2002-2206.  Sloppy news reporting.

  • Mickey

    What to make of Michelle Obama’s use the terms, “The world as it is” and “The world as it should be?” From whence do they originate? Try Chapter 2 of Saul Alinsky’s book, Rules for Radicals.

    “Barack stood up that day,” talking about a visit to Chicago neighborhoods, “and spoke words that have stayed with me ever since. He talked about “The world as it is” and “The world as it should be…” And, “All of us driven by a simple belief that the world as it is just won’t do – that we have an obligation to fight for the world as it should be.”

    Go back to Chicago, please.

  • MS. F3

    “Who’s the most Fabulous First Lady — Michelle Obama or Ann Romney?” Last time I checked, Michelle Obama is still the First Lady. Ann Romney obviously is not yet there and the way her husband and VP wannabe Paul Ryan are blowing up their campaign trails we may never found out. Don’t jump the gun peeps!

  • D Vee

    Michelle is a product of “equal opportunity employment” when she held a position at the university of chicago hospitals. She is also a product of “affirmative action” when she went to college. And please stop comparing her to Jackie Onassis. Marami talaga ang gusto ng sandok.

  • Anne Torre

    Michele is the woman who lost her law practice due to undisclosed reason (insurance?). A product of the black culture who never loved America but stopped talking about it when she became the first lady of the “hope and promise” that failed: Barry Sotoero Obama. Now the Americans are asking, “Where are the jobs?”

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