A popular and often thoughtful Twin Cities radio personality picked up on the Michelle Obama patriotism flap Tuesday night. It's important to have context, he said, explaining why the station would play more than a snippet of audio from Obama's controversial speech before opening up the phone lines.
Wonderful. In this era of talk radio, talk TV and diarrhea of the blog, context is anything over a minute. Critics want to use a quote from a campaign speech -- " ... For the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country'' --to paint Michelle Obama as unpatriotic.
In the interest of meaningful context, consider a Feb. 14 New York Times story on Obama's life and her role in her husband's campaign. Here's a summary:
Michelle Robinson Obama, 44, grew up in working-class Chicago family. Her maternal grandfather, a carpenter, was forced out of a job because, as a black man, he was not allowed to join a union. Her father worked for the city. Her mother stayed home and focused on the children. She limited their TV viewing, leaving the kids to play chess, read books and participate in sports. This was not a family that seemed at odds with their country. In fact, they were trying to achieve the American dream.
Her high school advisers tried to convince her not to apply to Princeton because they didn't think her academic scores were adequate. Although she graduated with honors in sociology, her Princeton counselors doubted her ability to get her law degree at Harvard. They were wrong.
She met her husband at a Chicago law firm, and eventually both were drawn to public service. Michelle founded the Chicago office of Public Allies, a national nonprofit leadership-training network for young adults. More recently, she's worked as vice president for community and external affairs for the University of Chicago's Medical Center. Her job, before she took a leave to campaign, focused on forming partnerships between the medical center and the poorer South Side neighborhood in which she grew up.
That's important context. Michelle Obama's life so far is an inspiring American story of achievement against the odds. When confronted by low expectations, she excelled. Is she in some way unpatriotic because of one ill-conceived word choice? Given her life story, the question is ridiculous.