By Courtland Milloy
Monday, August 9, 2010; B01
So, first lady Michelle Obama leaves town for a vacation in Spain -- and in come these tawdry Washington housewives, dominating public discourse and TV ratings, pretending to take her place.
"Meet D.C.'s First Ladies," read a promo for Bravo's "The Real Housewives of D.C," whose TV debut last week drew an estimated 1.6 million viewers, "making it that market's No. 1 most watched show in all of television -- broadcast and cable -- in the 9 p.m. time period based on household ratings."
During a news break, we got but a glimpse of Obama, radiant and sophisticated, touring the Alhambra palace in Granada with youngest daughter Sasha. Then it was back to our regularly scheduled programmed descent to the bottom of the cultural barrel.
Talk about not missing your water until the well runs dry. I certainly won't be taking Obama for granted anytime soon.
According to Bravo, one of the show's five wannabe first ladies had distinguished herself by penning "a book about her 'racy' escapades as a charismatic, single woman living in London called 'Inbox Full.' " Another was noted for being "a divorced mother of four who consults her astrological chart daily, and couldn't be bothered to get married again, but has found love with her much younger boyfriend, Ebong."
Meet the District's first cougars, it sounds like to me.
Meanwhile, the real first lady is out charming the world, an ambassador of goodwill wherever she goes. Nothing but love and respect for her during visits to Mexico, Russia, Haiti and Spain.
That has to be at least part of the reason perceptions of U.S. leadership worldwide have improved so much since the Obamas moved into the White House -- up from 34 percent in 2008 under the Bush administration to 51 percent in 2009, according to the U.S. Global Leadership Project.
Perceptions of her at home, however, aren't always so favorable. It seems that no good deed by the first lady goes unpunished -- whether noticed at all.
Her campaign against childhood obesity -- which affects one in three U.S. children -- gets criticized as being driven by vanity and a misperception about weight, beauty and fitness. Now that just takes the cake.
Then there's the outright disrespect and racism that she's been subjected to as the nation's first black first lady. Last year, for example, a prominent Republican activist from South Carolina called an escaped zoo gorilla one of Obama's ancestors.
You know what makes a housewife desperate? Being married to sick-minded men like that.
"One of the lessons that I grew up with was to always stay true to yourself and never let what somebody else says distract you from your goals," Obama said in an interview with Marie Claire magazine last year. "And so when I hear about negative and false attacks, I really don't invest any energy in them, because I know who I am."
Now that's real class -- unlike the made-for-TV response by Stacie Scott Turner, the black D.C. housewife disrespected by Catherine Ommanney, the show's snarkiest blonde.
"By now you have seen episode one, and probably think that I am not a fan of Cat's," Turner wrote on her blog. "Well, she was an outspoken, uncouth first-time dinner guest in my home who made negative comments about two people for whom I have a tremendous amount of respect (i.e. my President and Tyra Banks, a successful businesswoman). I've been bombarded with questions about her and her motivation. Is she racist? ABSOLUTELY NOT! The two people mentioned just happen to be black."
Turner bent over so far backward to excuse Cat that she ended up kissing her own behind.
Obama frequently advises young women and girls to steer clear of people like that.
"Part of being a mature and functioning adult in this society is realizing that life is a series of trade-offs," she recently told high school graduates in Southeast Washington. "If you want a life free from drama, then you can't hang out with people who thrive on drama. You have to pick your friends wisely."
The first lady and Sasha were due back in Washington on Sunday. Welcome home. But you might want to check the cellar for strays.