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February 15, 2012

A FLOTUS fan

I love Michelle Obama. She is one of the few people in public life I look up to with unapologetic veneration, which is something I normally reserve for The Dalai Lama, Yim Yames and whoever writes dialogue for Ron Swanson. Our First Lady is strong, patient, wise, funny and gracious while doing what is arguably one of the most scrutinized and thankless jobs in America. She is the closest approximation to royalty we’ve had in the United States since pre-Demerol Elvis.

Unique among First Ladies, Mrs. Obama is a descendent of slaves who holds degrees from both Princeton and Harvard. She was a vocal promoter of family and health care issues before coming to the White House. She has been a city planner, a university dean and a youth advocate. Today, in addition to the somewhat absurd political demands of a First Lady, she is a health and fitness activist, a voice for veterans’ rights, a devoted parent and a role model to all of us, despite being a lawyer! This is a leader who brought a garden to the White House — not one with vainglorious roses, but one with tomatoes and eggplant and basil.

So when I heard she was coming to Louisville for a fundraiser for her husband’s campaign, I was delighted. Not that I will go to see her — I know better than that. When I met my personal heroes Kurt Vonnegut and Dave Barry, I both times mumbled something idiotic, blushed and raced home to go over all the witty things I was too tongue-tied to say in the moment. So I’ve learned my lesson.

You also will not find me in attendance at any political fundraiser, which is the type of event where people of power go to double down on their influence. And it would break my heart to see Mrs. O working that room, even though I understand the need for such events here in the land of the free and the home of the super PAC. But I’m happy just knowing Mrs. Obama is in my town. And if you go to the event (Feb. 23 at the Kentucky Center for African American Heritage), please tell her Jim says, “giggle, *blush* hi.”

It might surprise some people that the First Lady is appearing at a fundraiser in Louisville. Even one of our staid public radio reporters announced the event with some uncharacteristic WTF in his voice. And I can see why, because Kentucky is a poor state that has not supported President Obama in the past, so it might not seem like such a great place to fundraise. But I have the answer: Because she is awesome.

You might think my fanboy infatuation with Mrs. O is partisan, but that is not the case. Although I’ve had serious gripes with every president, I’ve generally held First Ladies in high esteem. For example, I deeply admire Laura Bush, a librarian mind you, for gracefully spending her First Ladyship with a president who rode to the Oval Office on the short bus.

I was and remain a fan of Hillary Clinton, who shares with both Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Bush the wisdom and forbearance to rise above the petty criticisms coming from those of clearly inferior intellect, some of whom don’t even host talk shows or write opinion columns. I thought highly of Barbara Bush, who fought illiteracy and can’t be held accountable for her son’s presidency. (For that we must blame Dick Cheney’s mom.)

Both Rosalynn Carter and Betty Ford made substantial contributions to their country, and I won’t bring up Nancy Reagan because I’m trying to be nice. So politics has nothing to do with it. But Michelle Obama is someone unique. She has all of the grace, brilliance, authenticity and caring, and none of the selfishness, power-tripping or subtle lunacy that seem to be hallmarks of men and women of power and prestige.

Every First Lady since Martha Washington must have pinched herself and thought, “zOMG, I’m married to the President of the United States!” But this time, I suspect it’s our president who pinches himself every day and thinks, “zOMG, I’m married to Michelle Obama!” If he doesn’t, he should.

So this election year, with the Republicans incapable of putting forward a serious candidate, I will not be wasting my time following knaves and hypocrites. I’m keeping tabs on someone truly worth our attention and admiration: the First Lady of the United States.