Yesterday’s inauguration featured many important moments, but 24 hours later much of the American media is instead focused on a single nonverbal gesture from First Lady Michelle Obama. A video of the eye roll was posted late last night and quickly went viral today, with over 446,000 views in just one day. Meanwhile, a video of President Obama’s second inauguration address posted by the New York Times has just 398,000 views over the same time period.
The two clips may illustrate all that is wrong with American politics today.
Whether one agrees with it or not, President Obama’s inauguration speech featured a bold vision for where he believes the country should be headed. Obama made many substantive proposals, including full and equal rights for gays, legislation to address climate change, and a promise to protect Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. The speech should be debated, as it deals with the future of the country itself.
Instead, many Americans are endlessly debating what the First Lady intended with her nonverbal gesture. The context of her eye roll is not clear from the clip seen below. Speaker Boehner is apparently joking with President Obama at the time of the incident. One cannot tell whether was genuinely upset, joking, or merely playing along with Boehner.
Even if one could interpret what Michelle Obama meant, it is not clear that it would matter. The First Lady does not have veto power. Michelle Obama will not be negotiating with Boehner over the debt ceiling or the budget.
But the eye roll does elicit strong emotion from many. The person who posted the video wrote the following description:
“At the inaugural celebration, Obama actually seems somewhat cordial to John Boehner, House Speaker. But Michelle is much too busy shoveling food into her mouth, and when Boehner tries to get her attention, she manages an eyeroll at him...”
It is this kind of rhetoric and vitriol that American political media loves, and sadly it may partially explain why we as a country struggle to have a serious, civil discussion on the substantive policy issues of our day.