Last night's HBO documentary By the People: The Election of Barack Obama, apparently didn't contain much new information about the campaign*, but it did offer more insight into the Obamas' marriage and the unbearable cuteness of the first daughters.
The clip above is provided mostly for the "Awwwww!" value, though it contains a bit of real information about what it took to persuade Michelle to sign on to a presidential campaign. First, watch as mom and daughters fight adorably over their game! Watch as Sasha adorably mugs for the camera! Watch as Malia adorably tells "Daddy" on the phone that she had to eat a lot of chocolate that day, then adorably hands the phone to her sister, who will go on to adorably hand it to Michelle with a gentle "Mommy," instead of the "MAAAAAAHM! PHONE!" any normal kid would have gone with. Then clean up the ovary shrapnel that just flew out of your abdomen and listen to what Michelle has to say about the campaign.
She had a lot of practical questions she wanted answered before she agreed to support her husband running for president, such as: How often would he be on the road? What would be expected of her? I'm almost paying attention now, until we cut to Michelle adorably but perhaps unwisely asking Malia to hold her ice cream cone, which Sasha adorably but unsuccessfully attempts to share, and... campaign, whaa? (Sasha, I feel your baby sister pain!) Oh wait, here's more: "How would we structure our time to make sure that our girls would not be pulled out of their lives? How much would it cost us, as a family?" She specifically refers to the loss of her own income being tough on the family, which I have to assume has not been a great concern for many previous potential first ladies, so that's pretty cool. But all those questions were eventually answered to her satisfaction, and the rest is history. Literally.
More adorable Sasha mugging! She wants to be an actress! There's adorable dancing! STOP IT, STUPID DOCUMENTARY! I have an anti-family, child-hating, godless-dirty-liberal-feminist reputation to protect!
Then Malia gets a little heartbreaky by mentioning that she'd like to see more of her dad, but you know, it's cool to go places and stuff — which sums up the fundamental Obama family dilemma right there: Gain access to pretty much everything and everywhere in the world, lose dad. And when you're 10, it's kind of a toss-up.
But after that bargain was made, Michelle apparently took to campaigning better than expected, as evidenced by the clip below, in which she lovingly mocks undecided voters at an Iowa veterans' home:
"Were you listening to me? Were you awake? Were you awake? You know you love me!" Hee! I wish the networks would just play that clip in response to every single baseless attack ever hurled at Obama. Because really, that's exactly what the wingnuts deserve.
Finally, in the clip below, soon-to-be-President Obama addresses both his wife's reservations about undertaking the campaign, and why she ultimately decided it was the right time: "We're still almost normal."
A few years ago, he says, they were still living in a too-small condo, paying off student loans and credit card debt, trying to figure out how to save both for Sasha and Malia's college educations and their own retirement. "The point is, we've gone through what people are going through right now, relatively recently. We don't forget it."
"We're still almost normal" is — as he says while crediting his wife with it — a great line. And there's a lot of truth in it. Perhaps the larger point, in fact, is that they were almost normal in the first place, as opposed to the endless line of politicians born white, wealthy and well-connected. But still, even if the Obamas have more "regular American" credibility than most, it's only saying so much. Paying off Harvard Law School loans is not quite like paying off chemo. Owning a somewhat cozy condo is not the same as worrying about whether you can make rent next month. Struggling to save is not struggling to live. This has always been my problem with Obama, and every other politician who tries to win votes by pretending he's just an average guy — i.e., all of them, but with Obama it's more of a dilemma, precisely because it's so tempting to believe him. And believing that he's just like us makes it tempting to become complacent and forget to think critically.
It's similar to all of the terrific, at least partially truthful lines about their marriage. As I said last week, there's a lot to admire and even envy about that marriage, but focusing on those elements, or even on Michelle's all-around awesomeness, distracts us from the fact that she sacrificed a lot to get him where he is, and that for much of his daughters' lives, she's been a constant presence while he's been a disembodied voice on the phone. What makes for the best story — the first family is just like us, the first couple is nauseatingly happy and in love — is rarely the whole story. And that's fine, as far as it goes. But as much as I want to take Malia and Sasha out for ice cream and have a cocktail or 4 with Michelle every time I see them on screen, I have to remind myself that that's exactly the response I'm supposed to have, that the first family is being packaged and sold to me just as surely as any other celebrities. And in the end, what matters is not how recently the president was dealing with debt, or how painfully adorable his daughters are, or how ass-kicking his wife is, but what he does in office, whether he keeps the promises he made to the American people. I love seeing images like these, but I'm a little scared by how forgiving they make me.
*I haven't watched the whole thing, on account of not having HBO, but I have been assured by those who did that if you obsessively followed the campaign watching David Axelrod yap about it some more was not especially enlightening. A schedule of upcoming screenings is here.