Laura Who? WashPost Celebrates Both Michelle Obama's 50th Birthday -- and Hillary Clinton's

A Nexis search suggests the entirety of the Laura Bush 60th birthday coverage in The Washington Post for November 4, 2006 and the surrounding week was one paragraph in the Style section on how Bush "left the campaign trail yesterday in time to celebrate his wife's 60th birthday at the family ranch in Texas. Our colleague Peter Baker reports that the president gave Laura Bush a triple-strand, amber-colored citrine necklace. The low-key dinner included family friends Lois and Roland Betts, Regan and Billy Gammon, Debbie and Jim Francis, and Nancy and Mike Weiss."

In Saturday's Washington Post, the front page of the Style is dominated by "A Tale of Two 50s," an article by Karen Tumulty on Michelle Obama's 50th birthday -- and Hillary Clinton's 50th in 1997. So you're not supposed to believe that charge that The Washington Post is a Democratic rag. Tumulty suggested Michelle "rocked it" better than Mrs. Clinton:

Michelle Obama has reached that milestone with what from all appearances is unalloyed jubilation. Her declaration that she is “50 and fabulous” is an understatement, given how saucily she waves her new AARP card. [Link to Mrs. Obama's Twitter page.] And there is no end to speculation as to what the next chapter will be, because — for her — just about anything seems possible.

To get a real sense of what is possible, in politics and in life, for a woman on the latter side of midlife, it is worth considering the last first lady who marked that bittersweet birthday in the White House.

When Hillary Rodham Clinton turned 50 on Oct. 26, 1997, she carried the not-yet-healed bruises from having nearly run her husband’s presidency aground.

Her 50th birthday came just three years after her politically disastrous effort to overhaul the health-care system. Clinton had spent the first two of them in a sort of political exile, rarely venturing into the West Wing, and choosing her public appearances carefully. Even her wardrobe had undergone a shift, from teals and reds and blacks to pastel suits, with pumps to match.

“She was trying to figure out how she could be who she is — a thinker, a doer — without arousing hostility from those who felt she was overstepping her bounds,” her longtime confidante Diane Blair told Time magazine at the time.

Being first lady is a position that comes with no job description, and the tripwires can be hard to see.

What Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton also share is the fact that each has been an emblem, as well as a first lady — Obama, as the first African American to have the role, and Clinton, as a symbol for a generation of women coming of age as feminists.

A few tiny observations:

1. It's extremely polite, to the point of ridiculous, to claim "tripwires were hard to see" when Bill Clinton put his wife in charge of nationalizing one-seventh of the nation's economy. After all the prose wasted on how "brilliant" the Clintons were? The Clintons knew that the "Clinton haters" would object to an unelected family member being granted that much power, but they wanted to strike a blow for feminism. Or, it's quite possible that Clinton's sexual incontinence made it impossible for him to refuse his wife's demands to take this role. But a liberal journalist would never hint at that.

2. To say Hillary was in a "sort of political exile" in 1997 is more than odd given that Hillary was very prominent in White House public relations. It's especially odd since Tumulty -- who worked at Time magazine before joining the Post -- surely knows that Time magazine devoted an entire cover story to Hillary turning 50 in 1997, which she doesn't note when she quotes from that cover story. That, like the Michelle birthday coverage, reeks of a national media outlet engaging in Democratic First Lady powder-puffery:

3. The reason Laura Bush or Barbara Bush would be ignored by the liberal outlets is precisely because they were not feminist "emblems." In short, they were treated as "doormats," traditional wives who didn't even have the courage to publicly state their pro-abortion positions (which only got the hint-hint). While Barbara Bush received a Time cover story as an incoming First Lady in January of 1989, Laura Bush and Nancy Reagan were never featured as "cover girls."

4. Online, Tumulty's story is accompanied by "Video: First lady Michelle Obama is celebrating her 50th birthday with a blowout dance party. Here's a look at some of her best moves and grooves." They don't explain that "Post TV" is merely reproducing an official White House video! Who can tell the difference between official White House PR and the Post anyway?

5. Tumulty quickly ran Mrs. Clinton through the Year of Lewinsky and then hailed her tenures in the Senate and as Secretary of State. Like many liberal feminists, Tumulty can't help but suggest Michelle should follow in Hillary's footsteps, concluding her article "One thing is clear: At 66, the possibilities ahead for Hillary Clinton look far greater than anyone would have guessed 16 years ago, all the way back when she was turning 50."

Tumulty's playing dumb again. None of them imagined Hillary running for president in 1997? No one in the media ever hinted at it....for about five years by then?

Tumulty sent this wish directly to Mrs. Obama on Twitter:

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis