In addition to being a writer for "Huckabee," Laura Ainsworth is also an award-winning retro jazz singer. To get 2019 off on a high note, here’s a video of her impromptu performance of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” on New Year’s Eve at Dallas’ Kessler Theater. Visit www.lauraainsworth.com for more.
Now that Michelle Obama has been named “Most Admired Woman” for 2018, it’s time for me to make a prediction for 2019: The former First Lady will toss her hat in the ring for 2020, and she will get her party’s nomination.
Her PR machine, which has quietly percolated ever since Hillary lost, went full-tilt in September with the November 13 release of her book, BECOMING. (One might ask, “BECOMING what?” I say “becoming a presidential nominee.”) Book signings used to be casual events --- remember? --- where, for just the price of the book, fans could get in line to meet the author, shake hands, snap a photo and take home an autographed copy. According to the New York Times, if you wanted a front-row seat at Barclay’s Center and an opportunity to “meet and greet” Michelle and take a selfie, it would set you back $3,000. If you were in a wheelchair, you could be seated at the back for $400. Nosebleed seats went for $29.50.
This was part of a 10-city tour put together by Live Nation, the world’s largest concert promoter, which handles about 500 artists, including Beyonce, U2, and Miley Cyrus. Tickets by Ticketmaster. She’s not the first person to kick off a book with the equivalent of a concert tour (Hillary did that, back when she could still draw a fair crowd), but this one appears to have been the biggest and most expensive.
A portion of the take would go to charity, according to Live Nation’s PR director. Ten percent.
It started in Chicago, Michelle’s hometown, at the United Center arena, home to the Chicago Bulls. (Since I try to avoid petty snark, it’s up to those of you who are so inclined to come up with your own play on words.) This place seats 19,000 people. She made other stops at giant venues in such cities as Washington, DC (two shows); Boston; Philadelphia; Detroit; Denver; Dallas; and Brooklyn (two shows).
Michelle and the Crown Publishing Group made a deal with Hearst Magazines to promote her new book with content “sprinkled” through its publications and websites. According to the NYT, it was this deal that got her the December cover of ELLE magazine. When we see those glossy magazine covers and features on Michelle, and bits of content “sprinkled” here and there throughout media, we can safely assume that they aren’t so much “news” as they are part of a business deal to promote her.
We can expect a lot more of this…
Those who know how PR works will realize that all of this high-powered effort is synergistic –- it works together. Michelle is everywhere, so she becomes more and more of a celebrity, which causes the demand for tickets and sells the book, which makes her more of a celebrity, which means more articles and magazine covers, and on and on. The timing of every picture, every mention, is strategically planned. It may look audience-driven, but it’s not. Her growing popularity is being engineered every bit as much as that of a pop star like Katy Perry.
According to the NYT, the Obamas also entered into a multiyear production deal with Netflix in May of 2018 to create television and film through their new production company, Higher Ground. The financial terms have not been disclosed, but typically such deals are worth tens of millions of dollars over several years. Magazines, news outlets, film, TV, live appearances --- all are busy shaping the culture and promoting Michelle Obama.
Anand Giridharadas, author of WINNERS TAKE ALL: THE ELITE CHARADE OF CHANGING THE WORLD,” was initially taken aback by the huge cash-in being made by Michelle on her book tour. “As [they are] the first African-American President and First Lady,” he said, “I am very wary of arguments that they should not do something everybody else was allowed to do. But an arena with tiered seating is a powerful metaphor for everything they presumably want to destroy. What this illustrates to me is that cashing in has become our common culture in a way we don’t realize. It’s the water in which we’re all swimming.”
Sorry, but that’s not what it illustrates to me. To me, it illustrates stunning hypocrisy. And excusing it, as Giridharadas seems to be doing, by saying, “Well, it’s part of the culture now and everybody does it,” won’t fly. Michelle doesn’t have to swim in that water. Sure, Hillary’s money-grubbing set the stage for it, but the Obamas are showing that they’re scarcely different from the Clintons in their pursuit of untold millions. The one difference may be that they’re managing to keep it legal.
Michelle managed to put a positive spin on the greed, by linking it with (what else?) female empowerment. “It’s not easy to tell somebody that you are worth a lot,” she said during a friendly interview in New Orleans. “Especially for women. We have a hard time saying that about ourselves, that I know my worth and I can put a monetary number on it, too.” If I could somehow meet Michelle without paying $3,000, I might say to her that today, the idea of “empowerment” is being used to excuse anything a woman can get away with.
Here’s the story from Jacob Bernstein as it ran in the NYT back in September.
Since that time, the promotion machine has churned on. I recently saw a puff piece on her longtime wardrobe stylist, Meredith Koop, who, I learned, is now putting Michelle in pants to make her more “accessible,” less like a First Lady. It’s a carefully and deliberately crafted image.
I suppose Koop also put her in those $4,000 just-for-fun thigh-high gold sequinned boots that elicited oohs and aahs during a recent TV appearance. Had Melania Trump made an appearance in those boots, the audience would have thrown rotten vegetables at her.
Of course, that’s hypothetical. Melania would not have been invited in the first place.
But back to the original point. Michelle’s PR machine is revving up, headed for...what? I say it’s the nomination. Watch the “sprinkling” of Michelle throughout the media over the next few months. Watch for hints from her that she may run. To my knowledge, she hasn’t said no.
Really, who else is it going to be? Hillary still wants it desperately, but even if she avoids the prosecution she deserves, she is over, and probably can’t physically endure a campaign. Joe Biden is 147 years old, and there’s too much video of him getting hands-y with women and young girls. Bernie Sanders is even older, 159, though, as far as I know, not nearly as hands-y. “Beto” O’Rourke’s only real qualification is that he generates excitement because he looks like a young Kennedy –- which, come to think of it, makes him a more likely candidate than most of this sorry group. (Can you say “running mate”?) Cory Booker and Kamala Harris? Most Americans will never warm up to them, with good reason. Elizabeth Warren (who is already setting up an “exploratory committee”)? It’s not in her DNA. Oprah? Though she came in as the second Most Admired Woman (with Hillary third; can you believe it?), I see her as less political, supporting Michelle Obama with everything she has and taking some powerful position with her if she wins.
Unless someone comes from nowhere --- which, ironically, her husband did in 2008 --- Michelle will run for and win the Democratic Party nomination. And she’ll continue to have the same kind of PR machine behind her that took Katy Perry to #1.
A postscript: I’ve been wrong before. Last time, I predicted Biden would be the nominee, as he’d step in and replace Hillary after she was indicted for one of her many wrongdoings (pick one). Little did we know then what was going on at the FBI to protect her…
Another postscript: When I went to Amazon to research the book WINNERS TAKE ALL, guess what I found with it under “Frequently Bought Together”? BECOMING, by Michelle Obama.