It was an unlovely moment. A quintessentially American one, too, since as a nation we love to voice our true feelings lustily.
I’m sure there were many fans in the NASCAR stands who were embarrassed when their brethren booed the nation’s First Lady, and who were ashamed on their behalf for not having enough respect to at least keep their mouths shut if they didn’t approve of the way the woman’s husband is running the country. After all, she came all the way down to help the families of veterans in need.
It really isn’t about respect for the First Lady, though. It’s that many Americans (some of whom attend NASCAR races, and some who do not) feel that she is a usurper to her position, as her husband is to his office. They don’t actually see the Obamas as President and First Lady, because to them they are squatters in the White House. Their very existence sullies the institutions they represent. It’s the same attitude that allows a member of the U.S. Congress to feel perfectly comfortable shouting “You lie!” during the State of the Union speech.
Ironically, if you really want to talk about usurpation, let’s go back to the way the Supreme Court suddenly shut down the recount in the 2000 election, guaranteeing George W. Bush’s victory. His legitimacy to hold office was far more in doubt than Barack Obama’s is today. Yet, I don’t recall Laura Bush being booed by crowds when she appeared in public, even by those who felt the election had been stolen.
Of course, for some benighted Americans, George and Laura comfortably fit the stereotype of a couple that at least ought to be living in the residential quarters, rather than cleaning them. I suspect that’s really what’s at the heart of yesterday’s cringeworthy NASCAR spectacle.