PostScript: Milbank’s ‘first female president’

Dana Milbank’s column, “Barack Obama, the first female president” struck a nerve with readers today. Milbank examined President Obama’s commencement speech at New York’s Barnard College yesterday and found the kind of one-of-us rhetoric that would metaphorically make Obama a woman the way, metaphorically, Toni Morrison made President Bill Clinton black. As Nisha Chittal pointed out on Twitter, Milbank is not the first Post opinion columnist to use the first-female-president construct:

Does the WaPo op-ed page have no new ideas? Dana Milbank, today: http://wapo.st/Je5eDb Kathleen Parker, June 2010: http://wapo.st/8XDNhe

Parker, though, was commenting on Obama’s beta-male demeanor, rather than his support for women’s issues. Milbank eventually jumped into the comments on his column to dryly reassure literal-minded readers, “I do not really think Obama is a woman.” Flip-flop?

Among the more than 2,000 comments on Milbank’s piece, readers questioned the validity of his assumptions. Cmhbph1 challenged that there is a gender gap for Obama to exploit:

CNN now has Romney leading Obama 46% to 44% among women. It is within the margin of error but it hardly supports stating that Obama owns the female vote.

Readers also took issue with Milbank’s characterization of Obama’s speech: “Monday’s activities veered into pandering, as Obama brazenly flaunted his feminine mystique.” They countered that the medium is the message. Maybe the pandering that Milbank found is a necessary component of a graduation speech, along with pomp, circumstance and Oh The Places You’ll Go. As Saulpaulus said:

this speech was more along the lines of boosting [the students’] self-image. Isn’t that something ALL commencement speakers are SUPPOSED to do . . .

Maybe, except for truly, truly special graduates who can take the unvarnished truth.

Jhillmurphy points out that politics is all-pander, all the time, but the good ones hide it better:

I guess the trick is to make one’s pandering not seem like pandering, sort of like not making your crush on someone seem like a crush. A project for all of us perhaps — find candidates’ graduation and other speeches which are pandering but don’t seem like [it].

Conversely, BenGrahamsGhost argued that, if Obama is pandering, he’s doing it wrong. You can’t pander effectively, the commenter argues, while simultaneously being old-school sexist:

“ ‘You can be stylish and powerful, too,’ President Obama said.” Stylish? Would Obama have said similar to an all-men’s college? “Men, you can be stylish and powerful too.” Stylish. Gawd.

Perhaps the president noticed that every one of the women graduates had copied his outfit for the ceremony.

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