When does testiness cross over into anger? Whatever you want to call it, Ann Romney is showing the signs. When she takes her husband’s conservative critics to task on Radio Iowa with: “Stop it. This is hard. You want to try it? Get in the ring.” When she leans into an NBC reporter and says: “There’s going to be no more tax releases given.” When she tells Latino voters they would vote Republican if only “they could just get past some of their biases.”
But her persona is not “angry white woman.” It’s more the fighting helpmate for Mitt Romney, her tough words and emotional delivery adding fire to a candidate and a campaign that could use it. Though GOP presidential candidate Romney used a certain word to describe the “47 percent” at his Florida fund-raising event, he and his wife sometimes sound as though they consider themselves “victims,” and I can’t figure out what they’re so mad about. “It is time for all Americans to realize how significant this election is,” Ann Romney told Radio Iowa, “and how lucky we are to have someone with Mitt’s qualifications and experience and know-how to be able to have the opportunity to run this country.”
Imagine the reaction if the current first lady went off like that on her husband’s detractors and lectured Americans on what they should realize and when. Better yet, recall Michelle Obama’s famous 2008 campaign declaration, “For the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country.” Back then, she didn’t get understanding or a do-over. She didn’t get credit for an exuberant nod to the historic nature of her husband’s success in a country where older African Americans remember a time when they could not vote at all, much less vote for an African American president.
You would have thought this daughter of the south side of Chicago had declared war on America and stomped on the stars and stripes. Actually, you didn’t have to go too far to see the image of an Afro-coiffed, combat-boot wearing, machine-gun carrying Michelle Obama that same year on a “satirical” New Yorker cover.
Since then, as the country has gotten to know her, her family and the causes she works for, her popularity has risen higher than her husband’s. But you still hear rumblings – without evidence to support it – that she fits the stereotype of “angry black woman,” one that exists primarily in the otherworld of TV reality shows. It’s a characterization no one should mistake for the lives most women of any color lead.
Michelle Obama has remained ladylike – not an adjective generally used to describe the behavior of black women – and doesn’t comment on the insults about her body and her children. (The well-behaved Obama daughters are a little young to bust out any Bush twins-like high jinks, though I have a feeling theirs might not be so easily written off as the usual teen-age rebellion.) Stories have been written about how the world sees black women and how we see ourselves. Being a successful and sane black woman means you have to use nuance to sidestep or plainly ignore the stereotypes Ann Romney has never had to face.
We can only sit back and marvel at the contradictions, when, for example, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) gets up in the president’s face with a finger-pointing display that would be right at home in a “Real Housewives” reunion. Was that a neck swivel, governor? Brewer claims she felt threatened by the president of the United States, turning what people saw with their own eyes on its head.
Ann Romney is free to label her husband the “grown-up” America needs and tell ABC she would advise President Obama, “It’s Mitt’s time ... it’s our turn now,” all but shoving the Obamas out the White House door.
Now Americans can agree or disagree with the sentiment – all’s fair in love, war and politics – but shouldn’t more people be saying, “How rude!”
Mary C. Curtis, an award-winning multimedia journalist in Charlotte, N.C., has worked at The New York Times, Charlotte Observer and as national correspondent for Politics Daily. Follow her on Twitter: @mcurtisnc3