I don’t like writing pieces about the Obamas’ daughters. I wish the Obamas would keep them out of the spotlight. But they don’t. And so when articles about them start disappearing from the Internet, I’d be remiss not to say something, as many of you have urged me to do.
As is well known now, several news outlets initially reported that Malia Obama was spending spring break in Mexico. And then the articles just disappeared without a trace. The White House, it turned out, informed these publications that Malia’s security could be jeopardized and demanded that they be removed.
Normally, I support efforts to minimize reporting on a president’s children, especially when there are security issues involved.
But the Obamas have two problems here.
First, they chose to send her to a narco-state for vacation. I’m sure she’ll be fine, and that they have not put her in jeopardy. But this is in part because she will be surrounded by a minor military operation.
Agence France-Presse reported that some 25 Secret Service agents have accompanied Malia and her friends on the trip.
I don’t know if this is accurate, though AFP is highly reputable. But it is safe to say that the U.S. Secret Service was probably forced to undertake a large scale security operation involving many agents so Malia could spend a few days in Mexico.
Americans have a right to know – at least after the fact – that such resources, paid for by them, are being brought to bear for an optional trip. Malia could have gone to Fort Lauderdale like everyone else.
The other problem for the Obamas is that they have made their daughters public figures. They are photographed everywhere with their parents, most recently last Sunday walking across Lafayette Park in front of the White House to church. They appear in official White House photos, and are referred to publicly by their parents.
I believe the main reason they expose the kids to the spotlight is that they are close to them and just see them as extensions of themselves.
But it also helps Obama politically, showing him with a loving, attractive family.
The Washington Post reported last month that the president’s reelection campaign is already using the children and may continue to do so.
A new Internet ad by the president’s reelection campaign features a portrait of the first family asking supporters to “help the Obamas stand up for working Americans.” The appeal, a departure from the typical Obama messaging, provides an early glimpse of the role the president’s wife and daughters are likely to play in his campaign.
In the months to come, political strategists expect to see the first family used as a political asset.
“The value of the family is enormous,” said Democratic pollster Celinda Lake. “The more you know this family and the more you think of Barack Obama in these terms, the harder it is to vilify him.”
There’s a price for this. Their privacy is sacrificed.
I’m sure the Clintons and the Bushes were equally close to their kids, and equally tempted to make use of them politically. However, I’ve covered the White House since 1997, and I can count on one hand for each administration the number of times I actually saw the children. And I was physically at the White House nearly every day.
This determination to guard their privacy was so well known, that I’m willing to wager that the AFP reporter who first found out about Malia’s trip would have checked with the Bush or Clinton White House before writing anything were it one of their children.
The White House cannot expect that news organizations will obey dictates to only photograph the children when they are put on display by the Obamas. If they were rarely seen, they could expect compliance with their wishes. But not when they are so ubiquitous, and when they so clearly add to the president’s appeal.
If the Obamas want to make their children’s lives private, more power to them. I support it. But then they should do what their predecessors did, and remove them from the public stage.