John F. Kennedy and his wife Jackie were well loved during his presidential term because of their youthful image and nuclear family. JFK, despite being the first Catholic president, was a welcome breath of youthful air after presidents like Eisenhower, and JFK’s Republican contender in the 1960 election: Richard Nixon. Jackie became a fashion and wifely icon for the nation and sixties housewives idolized her.
The Obamas, in this sense, are this century’s Kennedys. Politics aside (although there are a lot of similarities there too), the overall national image of the Obamas echoes the nation’s love of the Kennedys.
Let’s start with Michelle. Most previous First Ladies have opted for the motherly, and sometimes matronly, image, which was far from Jackie’s glamorous persona. Both Jackie and Michelle have become so idolized that they seem to be more celebrity than political wife. Jackie was a fashionista and so is Michelle. Her gowns at the Inaugural Balls and the White House Correspondent’s Balls were headline worthy much like the red carpet celebrity outfits. Michelle’s “Let’s Move!” campaign championing healthier living has reached not only kids (she had commercials and interviews on Disney Channel!) but also young mothers, the same demographic that idolized the way Jackie raised her family.
I won’t get into the fascination with Michelle Obama’s arms, but they have an Internet following of their own; Michelle doing push ups with Ellen DeGeneres has over one million views!
But I think the most attractive part of the Obamas’ relationship, a crucial part that the Kennedys seemed to lack, is the playfulness in their marriage. Although JFK and Jackie were a pretty young picture, JFK’s dalliances with other women (Marilyn Monroe was not the most discreet choice Mr. President, with all due respect), did not put the focus on the spark America wanted to see in the First Couple. The Obamas on the other hand, tease each other publicly all the time. A quick YouTube search gave me hundreds of videos: Barack teasing Michelle for her love of tamales, Michelle making cute comments from backstage during Barack’s Correspondent’s Ball speech, and more. Watching them together, the nation is in love with their relationship, the way they were in love with the Kennedys’ shiny nuclear family picture.
Ultimately, the Kennedys gave the nation what they wanted in the sixties: a pretty young family. And in the second decade of a new century, America wants the same thing again: a pretty young, fun family. Enter, the Obamas.
Megan Tripp is a junior WLP major who drinks way too much coffee and watches and re-watches Gilmore Girls way too often. She likes shiny things and looks forward to making a career out of making things up and writing them down.