Michelle Obama and the Delusion of Hecklers

Ellen Sturtz's outburst showed a sense of entitlement that echoes some of the most resentful critics of the President himself

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Mark Wilson / Getty Images

First lady Michelle Obama particpates in an awards ceremony in the East Room at the White House, May 8, 2013 in Washington, DC.

Questioning authority – meaningfully and with the potential for real results – takes thought and purpose, which is part of the reason why I’m sort of disgusted with Ellen Sturtz. Ms. Sturtz, for those who have not yet heard, is the 56-year-old LGBTQ activist who interrupted a speech given by First Lady Michelle Obama at a private Democratic National Committee fundraiser in Washington D.C. on Tuesday evening.

(MORE: Michelle Obama Busts A Move With Jimmy Fallon)

Normally, I’m all for non-violent demonstrations and civil disobedience – speaking truth to power is a tactic and a tradition that’s reinforced some of this country’s greatest and most revolutionary social movements. But I also believe that protest needs to have a logical purpose, an end game beyond the petulant desire to make a scene. As the stunt she pulled on Tuesday demonstrated, Sturtz and her allies — she’s a member of GetEQUAL, which, as part of its fight for “full legal and social equality” for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer citizens, has been agitating for President Barack Obama to sign an executive order barring federal contractors from discriminating against Americans based on their sexual orientation — are apparently ignorant of the fact that successful activism also requires a good sense of how and when to pick your battles. Not to mention an understanding of precisely who in the White House wields power.

Despite her considerable public profile, high favorability ratings and activism on behalf of military families and American youth, Michelle Obama is not an elected or appointed official. Nor is she obligated to answer to anyone on matters of national politics and policy. Did Ellen Sturtz or any of her colleagues—who have defended the activist in the days since the event—really believe that hollering at the First Lady would result in anything meaningful or impactful? That there is a straight line from the ears of the chief executive’s wife to the muscles of her husband’s dominant hand and his fountain pen?

(MORE: What’s Behind Obama’s Latest Evolution on Gay Marriage)

In addition to issues of impracticality, Sturtz’s eruption also demonstrated a blindness to or nonchalance about reality and optics. The office of the first lady has long been a complex and fraught one, with its occupants unwittingly caught in a sort of limbo between private citizen and public official. And for Michelle Obama in particular, there are the longstanding racial resentments that burst forth following the historic election of Mrs. Obama’s husband in 2008. Anyone who was been paying attention would have recognized in Sturtz’s outburst a petulance and sense of entitlement that echoes some of screechiest, bigoted and most resentful critics of the President himself, who have spent the past 6 years questioning Mr. Obama’s – and, by extension, black Americans’ – legitimacy to lead, have an opinion, or even exist. (Remember Joe Wilson?) To make matters worse, Sturtz’s description of Mrs. Obama’s reaction – that she was “pretty aggressive,” that she “got into my face” – was breathtaking bit of projection and entitlement that also tiptoed dangerously close to the “angry black woman” stereotype that Mrs. Obama has been dogged by for years. The implication by the Sturtz, a self-described “old abrasive lesbian” was this: That despite being interrupted during her delivery of a particularly passionate appeal for the support of at-risk American children, it was Michelle who was the asshole.

Readers can, of course, judge for themselves. Or rather, listeners and viewers. As of Wednesday afternoon, audio of the event had surfaced online and an audience-caputred video of the confrontation aired on CNN. “Wait, wait, wait,” Mrs. Obama can be heard telling Sturtz, to a round of applause. “One of the things I don’t do well, is this.” Although we don’t get a clear sense of how the tone and tenor of the exchange progressed — the assorted voices became a cacophony, rising in volume and urgency—according to the pool report, Mrs. Obama told both Sturtz and the assembled crowd, “[you can] listen to me or you can take the mic, but I’m leaving. You all decide. You have one choice.”

Sturtz, who, along with her colleague, GetEQUAL activist Autumn Leaf, later said that she was “disappointed” in the first lady’s response to her, had one chance to try to publicly engage the issue with nuance, an understanding of history and respect for the target of her displeasure. She blew it.

162 comments
Palerider1957
Palerider1957

One other thing notLostinSpace, The Mooch has PUT HERSELF in the spotlight, and therefore is open to ridicule and debate. If she doesn't like it,then she needs to remove herself from the public scene and go back to pigging out at Church's Chicken.

Palerider1957
Palerider1957

You Libtards really do have a short memory. I guess you don't remember how the MSM went after Reagan's kids, G.H.W. Bushs' kids, or even G.W. Bush's daughters.
I guess you also don't remember that while Clinton was in office, he told the Press that his daughter was off limits to the Media. And they listened.
Now we are to say nothing about the Soetoro kids, not to heckle the First Mooch, nor pResident Soetoro, why, that would be "racist"!
Libturds, such hypocrites and dolts.

jetfastthinker
jetfastthinker

Regarding the article... It makes absolutely no sense. The over-sensitivity the author calls for is exactly what often embarrasses me, when I'm forced to disclose my "liberal" brand in social situations. The entire purpose of the rant was obviously to bring attention to the ranter's organization. That a writer was unable to realize this totally blows my mind.

jetfastthinker
jetfastthinker

The passionate quarreling below--against people who hold wholly allegiant(sports-team-like) and contrary "views" to said quarrelers'--is so sad and neo-American(read: vapid and imbecilic). Really, people?? I can't wait until I'm old enough to move to France!

AnthonyMcMillan
AnthonyMcMillan

Its rude to interrupt anyone period. Perhaps a refresher course on common sense courtesy would help. I'm neither a huge fan of the right or the left, one of which is just a paid advertisement for big business, the other weak and ineffectual. However this president has had to deal with the most obstructionist House, in modern history, alot of which is based purely on racial bigotry. Mitch McConnell, tells his peers that we need to make him a one term president and not cooperate at all with him, that smacks of indecency and frankly is unamerican and doesnt put the needs of our citizens or this country first. Our politics have become bought and paid for and with Citizens United allowing untold amounts of foreign money into the political process its only going to get worse.

NBJCactivist
NBJCactivist

The race card is a term created by white people so they do not have to deal with the ugliness of racism. Black people are still struggling and if you are not Black then how can you say it is not racist? Does Get Equal have a black member? If they do, have they made a comment? What does the National Black Justice Coalition think? (Which is a Black Gay org). Is there any Black gay leaders or activists or is gay rights a white fight? Will anyone address these questions or just ignore them like they have the needs of LGBT communities of color? No all you want to do is say don't use the race card so you can ignore issues of race. Shame on you!!! Everyone has the right to their opinion and there are some race aspects of this action that need to be discussed and not ignored by the LGBT community.

NBJCactivist
NBJCactivist

Why is it ok to call someone homophobic but not ok to call someone a racist? All the comments below are from privileged individuals who only care about their own equality. Civil rights and the racism around it was less than 40 years ago and the ugly racism around the Obama presidency is still going on. To ignore that and not see that there's racism in the LGBT community that goes unadressed is just plain ignorant and racist as well. If you can't see how a white woman shouting down a Black woman can be racist then your blindness is tied to your own selfishness because their too much history there! But, the white privilege in the LGBT community has gone unaddressed for years so why should this encounter be any different.

RyanQuattro
RyanQuattro

Ms. Holmes forgets the hecklers that followed Bush around. He was called all sorts of horrible names. Actually, she probably didn’t forget. She most likely approved of it which is why no one should take articles like these seriously. Ms. Holmes is offended because her heroine was interrupted. If it was anyone else she probably would have defended the heckler.

  I very much appreciate the First Lady’s response. I loath hecklers. They simply are cowards hiding in crowds.  But Ms. Holmes really need to stop back and think about heckling in America. Actually, she first needs to open a damn history book.

The idea that Obama has drawn hecklers because he is Black makes some sense. Racism still lurks in the hearts of many in this country. But the idea ignores 200 years of heckling and name calling. George Washington himself was blasted in the press and on the streets. Mr. Obama is only the latest president to undergo this ritual cow pie flinging. 


It never ceases to amaze how ill-informed many Obama supporters are when it comes to history. So much that Obama has undergone has been done before. Obama is not being treated any worse than any president before him. They would know this if they actually read some American history books besides “The People’s History of the United States”.

fermata
fermata

Some people, like Anna Holmes, just can't resist playing the "racist" card when they have nothing better to say but were so offended by an Obama being offended. 

p47hero
p47hero

One word. HOMOPHOBIC!

StanleyDubinsky
StanleyDubinsky

"successful activism also requires a good sense of how and when to pick your battles" 

Interesting that Anna Holmes would put this out as a reason that Ellen Sturtz should have shut up. This is approximately what the white establishment kept telling the civil rights movement, when African-Americans were agitating for equal rights. Holmes is essentially telling us that Sturtz got all "uppity" with Michelle Obama (who in this instance, more than being an African-American anything, was a heterosexual woman in a position of power telling an LGBTQ woman to shut up). The fact that an African-American married couple can occupy the White House, while a gay couple can't (in most states) get married, suggests that the problem of homophobia (and in Obama's case, a reluctance to deal with that) is today a far greater problem than any illusions of racism that Holmes would like to project onto this event.

sachi_bbsr
sachi_bbsr

You mean it's OKAY to heckle Barack Obama then?


DavidHalladay
DavidHalladay

Michelle did not blow it at all. I am an openly gay man and Sturtz is the only one that blew it. She does not represent most gays as we would not protest the first lady who is in support of our rights and has no power other than to be visible in support. Thanks so much Ms Sturtz, you are a disgrace and a very rude B

sambragg.38
sambragg.38

As a very wise person who writes at The People's View notes:

"-You want something done on employment discrimination? Do us all a favor and use the time you would be heckling the First Lady to instead call your member of Congress and your senators. Got some time left? Go sign up to help at a campaign to replace an anti-equality member of Congress. You want action? Demand it from your Congress, and if they won't give it to you, work like heck to elect a new Congress that will.

Michelle Obama speaks for me. She stood up to a bully (yup, you read that right), and she has my undying gratitude for it.-"

Couldn't agree more.

Bob1275
Bob1275

I'm sure you have the most noble purposes, but would you write this same article if anyone, for any reason were heckling George Bush? If  you couldn't, you're being a hypocrite and you're not interested in real democracy.

kuei12
kuei12

The Obamas are vile and disgusting liars that do not stand behind the people that elected them. They oppose everything the american workers stand for. The Obamas are the enemy.

MSD2178
MSD2178

I disagree with people claiming Right in this country dislike Obama's because of their race.. The Right was equal brutal towards Bill Clinton, if not more. Additionally, they still shudder at the name of Jimmy Carter. Yes, there is racism, there is no denying that and I am also sure there are some people who think the President should never have been black. But to say everyone who criticizes the President is a racist is foolish. This was the same problem I encountered during the 2008 primaries. Obama's  primary campaign team was not only extremely misogynist towards Hillary Clinton but his Presidential campaign made promises of radical changes but failed to provide ANY plans of how exactly he was going to go about doing this, leading me to conclude they were rhetoric from a candidate who is great at oratory.  But if I pointed that out, I was branded a racist with people ,claiming I would rather have a white woman in the White House than a black President, which was completely false.  I don't like hecklers but to call them entitled and racist just because the First lady is black is irresponsible. And in all of this debate we are overlooking the fact that this heckler was from a group that is constantly facing all sorts of discrimination. From the logic of this article, can we then conclude the First lady is homophobic?!

ChikuMisra
ChikuMisra

That is a good photo of Michelle. She looks pretty much like what I would expect someone to look like after a half decade in the White House. A look of invincibility and untouchability.

BobSheepleherder
BobSheepleherder

Why is it, that when I question the Presidents competence or ability I am inevitably accused of being deluded or a racist?? The more likely explanation is that those who accuse the loudest are, in fact, the most afflicted by that disease. Except for those who have no other defense for his performance, NOBODY cares about the color of his skin!

valentine.godoflove
valentine.godoflove

OBAMA.......IS......A NEO MARXIST/COMMUNIST.........AND HIS WIFE......QUEEN MICHELLE WHO SPENDS MONEY LIKE THE TREASURY WAS THEIRS.....IS LIKE AN AFRICAN TRIBAL QUEEN......

OBAMA......USES THE RACE CARD.......AND DIVIDES THE COUNTRY.....THERE IS MORE RACISM NOW.....BECAUSE OF OBAMA......THE IDIOTS WHO ELECTED HIM......THOUGHT.....THAT HE WOULD UNITE .....THE RACES.

ON THE CONTRARY......OBAMA.....LIKES.....TO DIVIDE THEM......

YOU REAP WHAT YOU SOW.......

valentine, world historian.....comedian....lol


Palerider1957
Palerider1957

@NBJCactivist the only reason blacks are "struggling" is because they hold an good education to low esteem ("trying to be white ring any bells"?), and refuse to work when to do so would mean they would lose all their freebe's like Obamaphones, free broadband, free housing (HUD), Welfare, Food Stamps, EBT, Cash Assistance, energy assistance, preference in hiring, promotions and college admissions. But I know, I'm being racist, right?

AnthonyMcMillan
AnthonyMcMillan

I don't recall alot of people calling Bush a agent of foreign terrorism and even questioning his right to even be the president? And Ryan there is a huge difference. People had reason to question Bush and we even have a reason to question Obama. However, Obama was getting heckled, from the top down even before he got into the white house. Mostly by the old, right wing, who likes to forget that African Americans are actually part of this country and have been for quite some time. And as far as Ms. Holmes, you seem to make alot of assumptions about her character, which is a typical trait of the right, even though you have never met her, nor know her personal history, which is frankly pathetic on your part.

Piacevole
Piacevole

@StanleyDubinsky Was the subject of the speech even sightly related to the issue of gay rights?  I thought it was something about children's education.  The only reason for heckling a first lady in a situation like that was to try to get oneself some free publicity.

Michelle Obama's unwillingness to go along with that game makes no comment about her except that she is disinclined to be used as a patsy for someone else's wish for airtime she couldn't get on her own.


MiltonSpears
MiltonSpears

@StanleyDubinsky So you are comparing someone shouting at a First Lady about something that the First Lady has absolutely no control over to the Civil Rights Movement? You're too clueless to realize that your dumb comparison made Ms. Holmes point exactly, aren't you?

MiltonSpears
MiltonSpears

@Bob1275  Typical wingnut, comparing apples to oranges. Barack Obama did not deceive the country and lie us into a war which took tens of thousands of lives and almost wrecked our economy. Bush did. Look, the Republicans are at least wise enough to try to pretend like Bush never existed...why don't you because you look like an imbecile for bringing him up.

Piacevole
Piacevole

@kuei12 You may consider the Obamas to be your enemy, but they are ot mine.  Nor, evidently, are they the enemy of the people who re-elected Mr. Obama to the Presidency last fall.  As for a"everything the American workers stand for," American workers are doing better than they were for a while, and things are getting better.   More jobs are being brought back from "offshoring," and things are looking up.

MiltonSpears
MiltonSpears

@kuei12  lol, a wingnut defending a lesbain...who would have thunk it. Boy that Obama hate runs DEEP huh?

MiltonSpears
MiltonSpears

@MSD2178 lol, Delusional much? Point me to the almost all white oppostion calling itself the Tea Party formed to oppose Clinton when he was president.  Point me to attempts to try to claim that Clinton was not an american citizen. Everyone with commonsense knows you Far Righters are racists, so the only person you are fooling is yourselves, and I doubt that you are doing that very well. 

JoleneBlow
JoleneBlow

@ChikuMisra She looks like a tacky woman with a cheap wig on.  And that gold tooth is awful.

JoleneBlow
JoleneBlow

@BobSheepleherder Because Leftist are white-hating Marxist filth who are trying to tear this country apart and destroy it.  Research Marxism.

ChikuMisra
ChikuMisra

Obumbly is a man of unquestioned competence. He is in fact one of the best robots produced by GM in the 1960s in secret alliance with the federal govt. more on that later. Point is, if you can't at least agree the man is smart, you are obviously a dumb racist.

afmajret
afmajret

this is meant to be ironic, right?

ChikuMisra
ChikuMisra

Whatever, all those First Ladies were very big spenders. It it easy to do when you have the public's credit card at your fingertips for everything almost.

kuei12
kuei12

@Piacevole @kuei12 Yeah. Trading 5 million middle class jobs for 10 million poverty level jobs sure is "looking up". LOL. That is, if you are walmart. Try again.

Piacevole
Piacevole

@JoleneBlow @ChikuMisra Every photo I've ever seen of Michelle Obama, she was well-turned out, appropriately dressed, and looked anything but "tacky." 

And, what gold tooth are you talking about/

MiltonSpears
MiltonSpears

@JoleneBlow @BobSheepleherder  Hey maybe you and Bob should get together Jolene. Your racist minds are definitely compatible....a match made in heaven. Your trailerpark or his? lol

Piacevole
Piacevole

@ChikuMisra The first ladies do not have "the public's credit card" at their disposal.  Some expenses of living in the White House are met as part of the compensation package of the Chief Executive, and some are met by the personal funds of the residents. 

BeckmanLong
BeckmanLong

Actually, I think it is stuck in 1940s Nazi Germany:)

kuei12
kuei12

@Piacevole @kuei12 "It's like a tornado" is correct. The people who get wiped out in tornadoes consistently rebuild the same thing in the same place. That is EXACTLY what Obama has done. The bankers have not been prosecuted, the war criminals have not been prosecuted, changes to the banking system have not been made, we are still slaughtering innocent people in the mid-east for no reason other than to sell weapons and steal oil and heroin. OBAMA HAS DONE NOTHING! The next stock market crash, that is coming very soon, will be much worse than the last. Have you not been paying attention? So, other than the rich getting richer, what is "looking up"?

Piacevole
Piacevole

@kuei12 @Piacevole Compared to our situation in '08 and '09, things are "looking up."  The mess we were in then damaged a lot of the fabric of our economy, and repairing it - like repairing any vandalism - is longer and more time-consuming than doing the damage in the first place.  It's always that was: someone who is destructive can do more harm in very little time, but the repairs are much more complex.  It's like a tornado: a few seconds, a minute, can reduce a town to wreckage and kindling.  Rebuilding it is likely to take a lot of time, effort, and money.  Someone whose house has been leveled doesn't just walk into it and go to bed that night.

BobSheepleherder
BobSheepleherder

@MiltonSpears @JoleneBlow @BobSheepleherder You should use something besides "racist". That card has been played so often it has lost any meaning as a pejorative. Try something in the vein of "nazi" or "jack booted, storm trooper", I understand those are coming back into fashion with the leftist rabble.

BobSheepleherder
BobSheepleherder

@MiltonSpears @BobSheepleherder @ChikuMisra Meaning you don't have a clue. Smart has little to do with competence, if you were either you would know that. As far as Bush is concerned, I didn't and wouldn't vote for him ... unless he were running against Obama, than the comparative equality of their competence would have me in a quandary as to which was the "lesser" of two evils.