One of the greatest benefits of an Obama presidency is hidden in plain sight: the relationship between Michelle and Barack. They provide a great role model of a healthy relationship, at a time when such models are sorely needed.
Imagine having a president who is not distracted from the nation's business by the stresses of secrets in the presidential marriage.
Imagine having a president who likes his partner and values her as an equal, a president who touches his wife affectionately in public and actually listens to her when she talks!
Fortunately we don't have to imagine it, because we already have that potential at the tip of our voting fingers. For Americans, one of the most important aspects of an Obama presidency is being overlooked: the model of a healthy relationship. In the 28 years of our own marriage, we've worked with more than 4,000 couples in our office and seminars, so we have a reasonably good idea of what kinds of behavior one sees in a healthy relationship. For example, Michelle and Barack do something we've never seen before in a presidential couple: they actually look directly at each other when they're speaking to each other. They also laugh at each other's humor, and they allow their sexual attraction for each other to be visible. Contrast that with other presidential marriages, in which the sexual attraction to each other was not visible but their sexual attraction to others became highly visible. Michelle and Barack talk openly about their feelings for each other. They're real.
Why would their relationship be a benefit to the American public and the world at large? The main reason is that it would be genuinely useful to have a visible, public role model of what a healthy relationship looks like. Over the last fifty years there's been a parade of not-so-great relationship models in the White House. They range from idol-worship (Nancy's perpetually-adoring glaze, oops we mean gaze, at Ronnie) to the sternly maternal façade of the first Mrs. Bush. We've witnessed White House marriages strained to the breaking point by secrets. The country lost 50 million dollars and a year of the government's focus because one president actually did have sex with "that woman" but wouldn't tell us the truth until he was outed by DNA.
How about Camelot? Many of us were fooled into thinking the Kennedys were the very picture of a Perfect Relationship. There was a handsome, rich Prince with knockout hair, coupled with a doll-Princess whose faraway smile and breathy, little-girl voice made her seem heaven-sent. Unfortunately, it was all just a fantasy. In reality, John was a serial philanderer and Jackie was a chain-smoker who swore like a sailor and dropped the little-girl voice the moment she walked off-stage. There's no way to measure the productivity that was lost because the president's staff had to earn part of their government salaries ushering women in and out of the White House, all with exquisite timing (and with the look-the-other-way collusion of the media.)
However, you don't have to go back in that far in history to see a strange or strained White House marriage. Have you ever seen the current occupant of the White House speak, much less listen, to his wife in public? For example, do we ever get to hear from the real Laura Bush, the one who disagrees completely with the far-right views of her husband on such matters as women's reproductive rights? No, because she's been muzzled, like most of her predecessors, and sealed off behind the glazed smile of the Perfect Presidential Wife.
It's high time we got to see an honest, loving, real relationship in the White House. If you're like us, you probably don't want to spend the next four years hearing how much the perfectly-coiffed Mrs. McCain has spent on her outfit, which of their nine houses they're weekending at or which of their thirteen cars they're wheeling around in. There's something bigger to worry about, though. If the actuarial tables have any predictive value, a McCain presidency would soon become a Palin presidency, and that is a scenario truly frightening to contemplate.
President Palin would be desperately trying to comprehend and handle business during one of the most trying times in our nation's history, while taking care of a special needs baby, riding herd on pregnant teenagers, foul-mouthed hockey-jock son-in-laws and other household dramas. On the brighter side, a Palin White House would provide one exciting possibility for our increasingly tabloid-obsessed culture: the perfect capstone for Jerry Springer's career! He would make an ideal Chief of Staff or Sergeant-At-Arms, charged with keeping the gun-totin', hockey-stick-wielding clan from wrecking the furniture (and each other) or blowing away a moose for sport on the White House lawn.
Here's a better idea: Elect Barack Obama. That way, we get the gift of seeing two people having an easeful friendship with each other. We get as a role model two people who communicate with each other as equals and stand beside each other as true partners. If we elect Barack Obama we are electing a new possibility in our relationship lives as a nation: respect, affection and authenticity. Michelle and Barack speak clearly and openly. You know she won't bullshit you or embarrass you by playing the demure little wife. We're ready to see that kind of relationship, and we hope you are, too. The question is: are we as a nation ready to end our national addiction to duplicity, phony adoration and Stepford wifedom in the White House? If not, we're going to get what we deserve.
We have a chance now to make a real difference in the world. If we elect Barack Obama, we can all focus on the critical challenges that must be met now. Speaking personally, we feel a sense of warmth and pride when we think about the support and love the Obamas have for each other. We breathe easier when we see how they live their lives with balance, honesty and clarity. They're the real deal. In November, let's give ourselves this new mirror of our own value.