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Sarah Hampson's Generation Ex

Obama fairy tale? Reality check, please Add to ...

Pardon me for not swooning.

Look, it's hard not to admire a U.S. President who seems intent on disarming the world with his charm and his words, who can heap his plate full of enormous agenda issues and then tuck into them one by one, a skinny man with an impressive appetite.

But the Obamas' fairy-tale date night last week? Please. It wasn't just that it was O.T.T., as my peeps (Scottish-ishy WASPs) like to say. Over. The. Top.

Seasoned married people - and those who have been divorced - know that marriage is never as perfect as some spouses try to make it look.

And the first couple aren't just living in a media-created Obamalot: They seem to be scripting it. Granted, it was hard not to be all a-quiver about the whole thing - what with Michelle in her fringed, sleeveless cocktail dress and the Prez in his open-neck white shirt and dark suit. It was all so millennial and exemplary. He looked like a metrosexual from the pages of GQ magazine.

"I am taking my wife to New York City because I promised her during the campaign that I would take her to a Broadway show after it was all finished," he said.

Up went a collective sigh.

He whisked her off in a Gulfstream 500 Air Force jet, then on a Marine One chopper to a Wall Street helipad. A limo took them to a cozy Greenwich Village restaurant, Blue Hill, which serves a seasonal, farm-fresh menu, and then they took in August Wilson's play Joe Turner's Come and Gone .

Was I the only one on the planet who thought I was watching a new reality dating show for politicians, in which husbands and wives vie for a prize for being the best possible spouse of all time? Next up: Stephen Harper tries to look unbuttoned and sexy as he invites Laureen to hop on the back of her own motorcycle!

The Obama date night had the feel of a predictable TV script: As the White House Glitters. Sorry to have to point this out, but it didn't escape my notice that the Broadway play they went to see tells the story of one man's struggle to reconcile his identity as an African-American in the post-slavery world of 1911 Pittsburgh.

The stage-crafting of marital/political perfection was so perfectly executed, I found myself imagining the Obamas having a private fist bump in the back seat of their limo.

Let's not forget that the announcement of the event came as an official release from the White House. A cynic might see that the President was making a sort of back-handed political point in the release by suggesting that he follows through on every single campaign promise, even those of the marital variety.

A group of reporters followed the swoonfest, along with White House staff, in two smaller aircraft.

Still, only crotchety conservatives griped about the display, pointing to an irresponsible use of taxpayer money during a recession, akin to auto executives flying into Washington for bailouts on their private jets. The Obamas' orchestra seats- which they were rumoured to have paid for themselves - were $96.50 (U.S.) apiece, and each of the three aircraft cost at least $24,000 for the night. There was no word on what the couple ordered at the restaurant, although it was noted that the grass-fed-lamb entrée goes for $36.

Such is Mr. Obama's apotheosis that most people seemed to lap up the marital example as something they should emulate, as if the President were not just out to quell the clash of civilizations, but also to show the world how to be married.

In a story in The New York Times on Sunday, the date night was reported as a playful rebuke to husbands everywhere who can't seem to plan anything more elaborate that an occasional outing to the local Pizza Hut, if that. Meanwhile, the leader of the free world treats his wife to a glam night out between fixing the economy and combatting terrorism.

"How do you compete with that?" Jon Stewart said jokingly of the first husband's grand gestures. "Take it down a notch, dude!"

It's not that those of us who have been around the marriage block don't think the Obamas have a good partnership. By all accounts, they do - which should be celebrated. As a middle-aged couple who have been married for 16 years, they seem to manage the stress of modern life well. They went for a hand-in-hand stroll in their garden after a spring date night in Washington (TV footage is available). They openly flirt at soccer games (more footage). He schedules "Michelle time."

Their love affair is not dysfunctional like the Clintons'. Nor does it have the feel of family duty, as both the Bush presidential marriages did. It's more Reaganesque, but because Ms. Obama doesn't have the fifties-era vibe of Nancy Reagan, who gazed upon her beloved with doe-like eyes from the sidelines, she has more credibility as an independent wife of major brainpower who supports her husband not just because she is married to him, but almost in spite of their union.

She felt "amazed as a citizen" at the inauguration, she told Vogue magazine in one of her early interviews.

"He is a very consistent person - which is why I knew unequivocally that he would be a phenomenal president," she explained to Oprah.

There's a suggestion in the way she looks at him sometimes that she puts up with his long hours and the curtailment of their previous enjoyment of a more private life because he's good for the country. His former mentor at a Chicago law firm, Ms. Obama is lending her man to the world.

And he clearly idolizes her. At one of the balls during the inauguration celebrations, he put his head on her shoulder and closed his eyes. He can look at her in a way that is downright unpresidential. All of which is refreshing.

But enough with the media-savvy date ops.

They present a better example of what marriage is when they utter off-the-cuff comments, as Ms. Obama did during a campaign stop last year. Her husband wakes up "snorey and stinky," she said.

In his book Renegade: The Making of a President , Richard Wolffe reveals that the Obamas' marriage was strained during the presidential campaign.

"There was little conversation and even less romance," he writes. "She was angry at his selfishness and careerism; he thought she was cold and ungrateful."

Ah, now that's reassuringly real.

 

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