There is currently a recommended diary that documents the predictable, vapid response of some right-wingers to the First Lady of the United States participating in the Oscars Telecast last night. Such august thinkers as Jennifer Rubin have expressed their outrage at this happening, as if Michelle Obama was some kind of interloper daring to pollute the air waves rather than being an esteemed public figure participating in our culture.
It all reminds me of one of my favorite clips on the Internet: Elanor Roosevelt's time as the mystery guest on What's My Line. The video really shows just how low the political culture of this country has sunk in the past half-century. There was a time you see when the entire country admired the First Lady.
The clip is a pretty remarkable capture of a moment in history. For those not familiar with What's My Line, part of the show's format was for a mystery challenger to come out and have a blind-folded panel of celebrities try to identify her by asking yes/no questions. For each no answer, the questioning would move on to next person. A few things of note:
1. The audience applauds the First Lady like mad. Not a boo in the crowd.
2. She was there to promote appreciation for the United Nations, also a non-controversial stance in that time.
3. This may be a subtle point but I've watched a lot of these old clips and the custom without exception is that when a female guest walks over to the panelists, the men stand to shake her hand and the women remain seated. Not for Mrs. Roosevelt. They all stand to shake her hand, men and women. Because they respected her and admired her...as did the whole country.
4. It's charming to see that she takes some offense at the notion that she was once involved with "politics". I don't think in her mind being First Lady or Ambassador to the UN were "political" job. They were opportunities for public service.
5. I want to point out that the host of this show was John Charles Daley. He comes across in all of these old clips as courteous and gentlemanly but he is downright deferential to Mrs. Roosevelt. What makes that worth noting is that John Charles Daley was a noted conservative who frequently worked for the American Enterprise Institute. You see back 50 years ago even Republicans admired the First Lady, even if she was married to the most liberal President we have ever had.
Mrs. Roosevelt was an exceptional woman. She was not just a first lady, but a wartime first lady who often had to do the public jobs that her husband's medical condition prevented him from doing. The whole country lived through 12 years of depression and war with her and knew. They all knew that she sent 5 sons out on the fighting lines, beside their own loved ones. They grieved her husband along with her and probably felt a closeness to her that will never be repeated.
But is common courtesy too much to ask now? I think not.