Are All (Crushes On) First Ladies Alike?

As Megan just noted, CNN’s Jack Cafferty has written a column confessing to being “smitten” with Michelle Obama. I can’t decide which line is creepier:

Mrs. Obama has blown away the stale air in a White House musty from eight years of the Bushes.


Her arms are becoming the stuff of legend.

Cafferty’s confession reminded me to look up and re-read Curtis Sittenfeld’s 2004 explanation in Salon of “Why I Love Laura Bush.” Of Mrs. Bush Sittenfeld gushed: “She’s both confident and modest, she knows who she is.” (Cafferty on Mrs. Obama: “But in many ways she’s still a kid from the south side of Chicago, and that’s what makes her special. She knows exactly who she is.”).

More Sittenfeld on Bush:

[W]hen Laura visits classrooms, “Hers is not the usual condescending conversation with children that is actually aimed at the adults listening in,” Julia Reed noted in the Vogue profile. [Ann] Gerhart [Washington Post reporter/author of a Laura Bush bio] similarly observes that “there is never a child who hugs her too tightly. She is not a woman to worry about getting a nose wiped on her silk sleeve. Over and over, I have seen her intuitively drop into a teacher’s crouch so she can look right into their faces.”

And, Cafferty on Obama:

Watch her when she visits a local school and you see the warmth and affection she instantly triggers in people. Kids are pretty much totally honest with very good BS-detectors. If they sense you’re a phony, forget it. But around the first lady, they want to hug her and laugh with her and tell her stories.

Sittenfeld hailed Mrs. Bush’s “unpretentiousness and modesty;” Cafferty admires Mrs. Obama’s “humanity and humility.”

But for their spouses (and, maybe, their biceps), you’d think they were the same person. What to make of these similarities? Maybe they say more about us than they do these particular First Ladies?

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.