First lady’s reaction to heckler appropriate and understandable

June 5, 2013

I don’t blame first lady Michelle Obama for her response to a heckler at a private fundraiser for the Democratic Party Tuesday.

No one heckled the First Lady Michelle Obama at this Springfield, Mo. event. (Diana Reese for The Washington Post)
No one heckled first lady Michelle Obama at this Springfield, Mo. event. (Diana Reese for The Washington Post)

Obama was in the middle of an impassioned speech about the changes that her husband has worked toward to improve the lives of our children. She was saying, “Right now, today, we have an obligation to stand up for those kids.  And I don’t care what you believe in, we don’t –”

When she was rudely interrupted.

The first lady continued, “One of the things I don’t do well is this.” Then she left the podium to confront the heckler, face-to-face.

Some claim what followed was a childish temper tantrum on the part of the first lady. I say she stood up for herself and for the paying audience’s right to hear the rest of her remarks.

The audio from the event is difficult to make out, but according to the pool reporter at the event, Obama said, “Listen to me or you can take the mike, but I’m leaving. You all decide. You have one choice.”

The heckler was escorted out and Obama returned to her speech. “So let me make the point that I was making before: We are here for our kids.” The audience applauded.

Obama sounded, to me, very much like the “mom-in-chief” that she’s said is her primary role. Salon’s Mary Elizabeth Williams pointed out the first lady reacted in a mom-like way. “It was the determined tone of a woman who, swear to God, will turn this car around right now if you can’t control yourselves.”

The heckler, later identified as Ellen Sturtz, 56, a lesbian activist from GetEqual, wants President Obama to sign an executive order that would prohibit discrimination against sexual orientation or gender identity by federal contractors. She paid $500 for admission to the event held at the home of a lesbian couple.

In a statement from GetEqual, Sturtz said, “…as the First Lady was talking about our children’s future and ensuring that they have everything they need to live happy and productive lives, I simply couldn’t stay silent any longer.”

I’m all for free speech. And for ending discrimination of all kinds. But was this the appropriate time or place for Sturtz to push her agenda? Don Q. Beggs, a friend of mine in Kansas City, Mo. and a friend who happens to be gay and who agrees with Sturtz’s position, didn’t think so.

“As a gay person, I was disappointed that the heckler targeted the first lady who doesn’t set policy, targeted the first lady because she is for equality, and targeted the first lady during an improper forum (on children’s issues),” Beggs told me.

He stressed, “I do, however, agree with the heckler – just not the time and place.”

Change has been a constant theme of the Obama Administration since the campaign. Change was a theme of Michelle Obama’s speech Tuesday night. But change sometimes takes time. And patience. And maybe it wouldn’t hurt to be polite when you want something.

Diana Reese is a journalist in Overland Park, Kan. Follow her on Twitter at @dianareese.

 

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