Republicans apparently have decided that Barack Obama's wife, Michelle, is fair game for their slurs.
They've turned a quote from a speech where she expresses her pride in America for the outpouring of youthful participation and idealism that has been unleashed by the Obama campaign and turned it into an insult to America. The Tennessee Republican Party cut a Web ad to greet Obama, suggesting that while Michelle Obama wasn't proud of America, Tennessee Republicans were. On Fox, Bill O'Reilly offered his smarmy smear, saying that this was a "big deal." The McCain campaign had Cindy McCain weigh in, saying that she's always been proud of America, unlike some others.
For African Americans, love for the country preceded pride in the country. It took martyrs, marches and a will to put dignity over disdain to create an America where we share more equality under the law — the right to vote, open housing, more access to quality education . . . pride.
Now that we can vote together and for each other — in big numbers — we have Whites voting for a Black and men voting for a woman. That's new!
Michelle Obama grew up as Michelle Robinson on Chicago's South Side. At Whitney Young High School, a magnet public school, Michelle and my oldest daughter, Santita, became tight friends. Michelle came from a loving, two-parent family. Her mother stayed at home and ensured that her two children survived the mean streets. Her formidable father had contracted multiple sclerosis at the age of 21. Despite constant pain, he got up every morning and went to work at the city's Water Department. He set high standards for his children.
Michelle's older brother, a gifted athlete and student, made his way on scholarship to Princeton. What came easy to him was harder for Michelle, but she worked harder and kept going. She followed him to Princeton, graduated with departmental honors, and then went on to Harvard Law School. On the partnership track of the blue-chip Chicago law firm Sidley and Austin, Michelle decided, soon after her father passed away, that she wanted more from her life than copyright law — so she took a deep pay cut to move into public service.
On the campaign trail, she delights audiences because she isn't packaged. She doesn't like to be scripted. She has an edgy humor, often blunt speech.
She is an American success story. And it isn't surprising that she feels new pride in America in this political season. She was born when blacks were still struggling for their civil rights. She made her way in elite White schools, suffering the slights. It didn't make her bitter; it made her better.
American politics ain't beanbag. It's always been an alley fight, but it is clear that Republicans are truly desperate.
Smearing Michelle Obama isn't hardball, it is despicable. If Republicans want a character argument, fine. But stick with Barack. Michelle is out of their league.
Jesse Jackson is a longtime civil rights activist.