Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Michelle Obama Needs First Lady Lessons

What do you call a unelected women who is elevated to the highest protocol position in the land, given a free castle and a country estate to live in, a large staff to attend to her needs and a motor pool to shuffle her around the country and the world, while she fulfills her role as the ultimate official, non-partisan representative of the state?

In Canada and Britain we call her the 'Queen'.
In the United States, they call her the 'First Lady'.

The only difference between the two, is that the First Lady reigns for up to eight years, while the Queen has the job for life and that puts the First Lady at a distinct disadvantage.

The Queen has an upbringing of privilege and position, one that prepares her for the onerous task of being the monarch. Unfortunately, this is not the case with most First Ladies (particularly Michelle Obama) who must get up to speed on the job rather quickly. It's not surprising that they make a few gaffes at the beginning.

Most Americans blanch at the idea of having a hereditary monarch as head of state and are quick to remind we colonials that the archaic practice of venerating and honouring a person of no particular achievement, someone who accedes to the position because of circumstance, not accomplishment, is against everything they stand for.

That being said, ever since Jackie Kennedy captured the hearts of the American public (whether they voted for her husband or not) and elevated the position of the First Lady to an exalted status, America has been smitten with the Queen bug, in practice, if not in name.

The First Lady has assumed the very same role as the Queen of England and both assume similar duties. Among other things, they....
  • Represent the country internationally by hosting or attending official state functions including conferences, balls and state visits.
  • Award various civilian medals and honours.
  • Act as the guest of honor at various entertainment events and national celebrations.
  • Serve as a morale booster by visiting areas of the country struck by natural disaster and visit and encourage non-profit organizations and their volunteers.
  • Host receptions to honour various charities or public service organizations.
  • Visit military installations, christen navy ships, award medals and service ribbons, attend military commencement ceremonies and visit with injured military personnel.
  • Give speeches and interviews discussing and supporting family, charity and other non-controversial subjects.
  • Uphold Christian family tradition by example, (attending church, hosting an Easter Egg roll or lighting a Christmas tree) while paying lip service to other religions by attending mosques, synagogues and assorted temples on occasion.
There's little doubt that Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain and the Commonwealth represents the gold standard in Queenly behavior. She has fulfilled her role gracefully and tirelessly for over half a century and Michelle Obama would do well to emulate her.

Here's some Queenly advice ;
  1. Check your brain at the door. Nobody wants a controversial First Lady. Hillary proved the point with her failed health care reform initiative that alienated herself from half of the American public. Remember nobody voted for you, so keep your opinions to yourself.
  2. Stop being so familiar in public. Kissing is generally as no-no, it should be reserved for heads of state. Learn to extend a gloved hand in that particular style on monarchs.
  3. Address people by their full title. Forget first names even in private unless you are very familiar.
  4. Don't buy clothing off the rack. Whether it's a $6,000 dollar purse, a pair of $500 running shoes or a $10 T-shirt, have your clothes made. Even if it's a $10,000 Hermes bag, it's beneath your station if someone else can buy the very same thing. By making up you own wardrobe you can avoid all controversy, as the press and the public can't comment positively or negatively on the price you paid.
  5. Get real fashion advice. The person who suggested that awful inauguration day dress should be fired. Such a disaster should not be repeated. While the mainstream press fawns about your fashion sense, America's fashion experts are grimacing in private, while publicly keeping their mouths shut. By all means use America's best fashion designers, but if you use an up and coming designer, understand that they'll blab about the experience to the press. Develop a style and if it works, stick to it. Experimenting is fun but not always successful. A First lady needs to look perfect all of the time. Try a hat. Nothing says Queen like a snazzy topper.
  6. Don't try to look or act 'normal', people want their first Lady to lead the lives that the average Joelle only dreams of. No fast food a la Bill Clinton. Don't pose for fashion mags any more, it isn't becoming. If you do, you'll be judged on your looks, not your position and that's something you don't want to do (you're no Halle Berry). By the way, tell your husband that appearing on Jay Leno isn't conducive to the image of the presidency.
  7. Treat your daughters as the princess' that they are. Dress them with the same care as you do yourself. Show them off at official functions only. Never let them be filmed doing the things ordinary kids do.
  8. Treat the press distantly, it adds to the mystique. Never hold press conferences. Accord interviews rarely and make them formal. On an occasional basis host a televised tour of the White House or Camp David. Who can forget Jackie Kennedy's famous White House tour in 1962, where 3 out 4 Americans watched? Have yourself filmed at least once depicting a typical day. (Stage the whole thing).
  9. Keep up a hectic schedule of public appearances and travel extensively around the country. It costs a lot to keep up your lifestyle and Americans have a right to expect a quid pro quo.
  10. Uphold the image of a calm, elegant and in control person, regardless of the circumstances.

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