Professional Underminer Praises Michelle Obama's "Bad" Taste

In this week's New York Magazine, Caitlin Flanagan joins the British press in criticizing Michelle Obama's "hostessing" abilities — but she does it with all the undermining passive-aggression of a world-class frenemy.

Flanagan - whose mini-essay is just one of many in the magazine's package on the "Power Of Michelle Obama" - starts off by echoing British criticisms of Michelle's gifts to Prime Minister Gordon Brown's sons — she calls the toy helicopters "the diplomatic equivalent of a rewrap." But that's okay, she says, because Michelle Obama is totally cute in other ways! Like how she "cuts a pretty figure in her big-and-tall gal ready-to-wear." And how "she lacks taste; her consumer preferences seem to have been rendered into being by the Mall at Short Hills." "This is not the time for taste," says Flanagan. In fact "American women" just love Michelle more for her "cock-up" with the Brown boys, because it sends the message that "times are lean, the fripperies of entertaining don't come as effortlessly as they once did, and-heads up, folks-the lady of the house is a little bit frazzled right now."

Caitlin Flanagan is the queen of trying to have it both ways, and this time she seems to be trying to make a populist point about Michelle Obama's "frazzled" everywoman-ness while at the same time being snooty about her taste. We'd venture to guess that she's the only woman in America who looks at Michelle Obama and thinks "frump," and her "this is not the time for taste" backpedaling seems more than a little disingenuous. She comes off like that friend who spends an hour trashing someone, then puts on a fake smile and says, "but that's why we love her, isn't it?" And given the choice between that kind of friend and someone who might buy a less-than-perfect gift from time to time, we know whose house we'd rather visit.

Good White House Keeping [NY Mag]

Related: The Wifely Duty [Atlantic]