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.”
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.
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