On Non-Substantive Critiques, or, stop arguing like a jerk.

Posted on February 25, 2013 at 5.13 pm

If you watched the 2013 Oscars last night (I didn’t), you know that the surprise presenter for the Best Picture award was First Lady Michelle Obama, and she wore a pretty dress. The presentation was broadcast live from the White House.

If you read about the political reaction this morning (I did), you know that a lot of people were extremely upset.

Writes Washington Post Right Turn columnist Jennifer Rubin,

Now the first lady feels entitled, with military personnel as props, to intrude on other forms of entertaining (this time for the benefit of the Hollywood glitterati who so lavishly paid for her husband’s election). I’m sure the left will holler that once again conservatives are being grouchy and have it in for the Obamas….

No one, it seems, gets within a mile of the White House with any sense of restraint.

On Twitter, likewise, there was much weeping and gnashing of teeth. And, of course, the ever scandal-mongering Breitbart.com commented that Michelle Obama’s appearance was “just obscene, and rather frightening in what it suggests about how low we have fallen as a nation.” Mrs. Obama, it seems, ruined the Oscars.

Now, there is ample room to criticize the personality cult that surrounds the White House, and the Breitbart post kind of went in that direction. The President is not our national dad or the “boss of the country,” as some have bizarrely suggested, and a healthy cut-back in the celebrity that the Oval Office brings is much overdue. America often maintains an obsession with the presidency which isn’t conducive to reasoned critiques of any administration’s policies.

But I’m pretty sure that most of the criticism of the First Lady’s appearance is not coming from a position of principle. After all, our last First Lady, Laura Bush, made an Oscar appearance in 2002 in a pre-recourded short, and I recall no such virtuous outrage. And Reagan himself sent a taped appearance to the Oscars in 1981.

No, this isn’t principle. The vast majority of objections to Michelle Obama’s appearance at the Oscars are little more than a glossier version of this sort of garbage:

Har har, this particular selection of right-wing women look more like Barbie than this particular selection of left-wing women, so their philosophy of government is obviously way better! Oh, and look, we called a man a women, ha ha, which is funny because it’s so funny to be a woman! I get the joke!

Thing is, it’s a sucky joke, and if you make it, you’re arguing like a jerk.

First, on a nit-picky note, the great majority of Hollywood celebrities lean left. So if you want to play the pretty = right game, I’m pretty sure Natalie Portman and Beyoncé beat Sarah Palin.

Second — and this is the more important part by far — don’t play that game. It’s a bad game. It makes you look petty, sexist, and insecure. It also distracts from substantive debate about, you know, real issues which matter more than whether Michelle Obama skyped in to a fancy party.

I’m not suggesting we stop making political comments about the FLOTUS’s Oscar appearance because I think it was a great idea; I’m suggesting we stop because doing so allows more important matters to go unexamined. If there was ever a good example of rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, this is it.

Jennifer Rubin was right about one thing: No one, it seems, gets within a mile of the White House with any sense of restraint — no restraint in spending money we don’t have, no restraint in violating our civil liberties, and no restraint in killing civilians in the Middle East.

Now that’s worthy of critique.

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