One president at a time, thanks.

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14 Responses

  1. Scot Boyd says:

    Just Say No to first ladies.

  2. Josh says:

    “Sure, speeches by first spouses might raise awareness about some problem or issue and, possibly, prod otherwise reluctant people who can deliver to do something.”

    — Isn’t that alone enough? I’m not exactly sure what your thesis is here? Is it that unless one is in a position of power, not mere influence, but actual power to make change, than they should just shut-up? Otherwise it’s “just talk.” And all this coming from someone who spends there days talking to students and writing to colleagues.

  3. Josh says:


    Well, using the wrong form of ‘their’ isn’t going to help my argument.

  4. Dave says:

    Why is Co-Op printing Jason Mazzone’s blog posts? He hasn’t been appointed to any position that entails writing blog posts.

    There is a popular notion that professors should use their “platform” to speak out on issues of personal interest. Sure, blog posts by professors might raise awareness about some problem or issue and, possibly, prod otherwise reluctant people who can deliver to do something. However, professors are not typically the most knowledgeable experts available to discuss an issue of public importance. (Jason Mazzone is a copyright/con law scholar, not a media critic). Professors also cannot deliver anything. (They never say: “I’m going to stop first ladies from making speeches today.” Or “I’m going to stop CNN from reporting first lady speeches today.” Or “I’ll call the CNN viewers as soon as I get home and tell them they need to stop watching first lady speeches.”) So their writings are mostly just talk. We listen, I think, because professors are paid to write stuff, and we care because sometimes what they write is interesting, even though other times what they write is pretty banal. And we listen to professors because we hope that what they say will shed light on something. But that hardly ever happens (Cf. any first-year law classroom).

    So looking for insight in a professor’s blog post is an exercise in disappointment. It is also bad for democracy. If we want to know what we should think, we should think for ourselves instead of listening to professors.


    On a side note, if we accept the logic that we shouldn’t care about the things that influential but non-appointed presidentially-proximate people have to say, that would exclude caring about what Rahm Emanuel has to say, or in the bad old days what Karl Rove had to say. Or, if the relevant qualification is whether someone has a paid position inside the administration (whether or not subject to the appointments clause), then that would exclude James Carville or Vernon Jordan. There are numerous people whose views we are interested in solely by their relationship with the President. It could be argued that the analogy is not exact, because we care more about Michelle Obama than, say, Valerie Jarret. But that is due to the uniqueness of the position of first spouse; under current U.S. law, the scope of presidential power does not free the President from the limitation of having only one spouse at a time (unitary executive theory notwithstanding).

    Further, it seems to me that it would be bad politics to “appoint” the first spouse to some sort of role, as well as entirely unnecessary. Think of what some would say if the President appointed his spouse to be a salaried “Special Advisor to the President.” On the one hand, there would be allegations of nepotism. On the other, there is really no need… society readily understands and accepts that a spouse IS a special advisor, and no appointment is necessary. If we really thought the input of a President’s spouse was meaningless, that would create a counterintuitive gap, in that the President can, at his choosing, seek advice from people that are close to him (qualified or not), but not from one of the people closest to him: his spouse.

    Further, the white house budget provides for first spouse staff that usually coordinates message and talking points with the President’s staff… which seems to me enough of a basis to conclude that Michelle Obama is most certainly part of “this administration” that she might feel comfortable refering to it in the plural possesive.

  5. Sean says:

    i agree with dave and josh that jason’s post doesn’t really make any sense. it’s also a bit mysterious why he chose to make such a stink over such an innocuous (if trite) speech. and given the amount of influence, power and good judgment white house spouses tend to have (hillary and eleanor come to mind), their not being “appointed” to an official administration position is pretty irrelevant to the worth of their views or the question whether we should pay attention to those views.

  6. Matt says:

    Would you have had the same problem if a press secretary or some other spokesman had given the speech? They are not “appointed” in any sense other than that they are hired and asked to do so by the President, are they? I don’t see how that’s significantly different from the was done here. We can assume, I’d guess, that Michelle Obama was asked by the president to give the speech and gave the speech he expected. Given that, and that it could just as well have been given by anyone, I really don’t see the problem here and think the idea is a bit off-base.

  7. krs says:

    I don’t like this new “Dave” character in the comments.

    That said, I’m not sure exactly where Prof. Mazzone is going with this post. First ladies make speeches all of the time, sometimes on their own behalf and sometimes in a way that makes them seem like adjuncts of the president. I’m not sure what’s wrong with that. Mrs. Obama wasn’t making decisions; she was just giving a speech.

  8. A.J. Sutter says:

    “It is also bad for democracy. If we want to know what the government is doing, we should find out from those in charge”: as the last 8 years have shown, listening to speeches from those in charge does not necessarily inform us about what the government is doing.

  9. Dave says:


    I’ve been posting in the comments here for close to three years, so I am not that much of a new character. And I do not know what you mean by putting my name in quotation marks, but if you would like to know more about who I am there is a link to my blog, where I am only semi-anonymous.

    I also don’t know what to make of the assessment that you do not “like” me, offered without any substantive disagreement. It seems like an awfully snap judgement to decide whether you “like” someone based on a few blog comments. But, should it please you, I’ll endeavour to be more “likable” in the future.

  10. birtelcom says:

    The US President is responsible for both the governing of the country and much of the ceremonial/political/bully pulpit activity that goes along with being the head of state (in many countries these two roles are intentionally divided). POTUS can’t be everywhere at once, and if a small part of the “head of state” role can be handled by the “First Spouse”, that would seem to be an effective use of that resource. People will fairly assume that the spouse in these settings is representing the President’s views and that such appearances are an additional way of communicating the President’s views in a way that helps give those views an effective hearing. I don’t know what the objection to that would be.

  11. Miriam says:

    Michele Obama happens to be a very smart and interesting person on her own merits. I hope she spends more time making speeches.

  12. elizabeth says:

    So, the uppity woman should get back to the kitchen and the kids; who elected her? Hey, 1993 called–it wants its talking points back.

    I’m with Miriam. Michelle Obama is going to be in the media spotlight whether she likes it or not; I certainly hope she uses it to “raise awareness” and prod people to action. And since when did cable TV’s “most knowledgeable experts” become the gold standard for public discourse?

  13. It’s 9 to 1 against you, Jason.

    Make that 10 to 1.

    “society readily understands and accepts that a spouse IS a special advisor, and no appointment is necessary.”

  14. Dave says:

    NYT article exactly on point:

    “And in her speech at the Education Department last week, Mrs. Obama quickly corrected herself when she used the word ‘we’ to describe the educational investments the president hoped to make. ‘I shouldn’t say ‘we,’ but the administration ‘we,’’ she said.”