WASHINGTON – In a country where anything to do with the Obamas can set off a partisan firestorm, conservative commentators vented spleen on Monday about first lady Michelle Obama’s appearance at the Academy Awards.
Obama appeared via satellite on Sunday night from the Governor’s Ball in the U.S. capital to dole out the top prize of the night to “Argo,” the Ben Affleck movie about the Iranian hostage crisis.
“These nine movies took us back in time and all around the world,” Obama, wearing an evening gown and surrounded by beaming military personnel, said in a surprise appearance from the White House before announcing the winner.
“They made us laugh, they made us weep, and they made us grip our armrests just a little tighter. They taught us that love can endure against all odds and transform our minds in the most surprising ways.”
Her participation — at the invitation of Oscars officials two weeks ago — stunned the audience. Affleck himself wondered if he was seeing things.
“I was sort of hallucinating when that was happening,” he told reporters after picking up the best picture statue.
“Over the course of a hallucination, it doesn’t seem that odd. Oh, a purple elephant. Oh, Michelle Obama. I was just asking these two guys outside, ‘Was that Michelle Obama?’ In retrospect, anyway, it was very cool.”
Conservative commentators didn’t see it that way, despite the fact that both former president Ronald Reagan and one-time first lady Laura Bush once made appearances at the Academy Awards, albeit their cameos were pre-recorded.
“Obamas Hijack the Oscars,” shrieked the headline on the right-wing Breitbart website.
Jennifer Rubin, the Washington Post’s controversial conservative blogger, also teed off.
“It is not enough that President Obama pops up at every sporting event in the nation,” she wrote.
“Now the first lady feels entitled, with military personnel as props, to intrude on other forms of entertaining (this time for the benefit of the Hollywood glitterati who so lavishly paid for her husband’s election).”
After first expressing outrage about the first lady’s appearance, conservative columnist Michelle Malkin then defended the cameo by Reagan 32 years ago.
“Reagan was former president of the Screen Actors Guild. Sorry, did I miss Michelle Obama’s past career in Hollywood?” she tweeted.
Malkin predicted that soon Obama would “be in every movie theatre preview telling you to shut your cellphone off and put away the popcorn.”
Twitter exploded with similar outrage from conservatives lacking Malkin’s profile.
“The Obama regime is not even hiding their collusion with Hollywood,” one remarked.
Added another: “Next time on The Oscars: Obama selects all the winners. Bye bye civil society!”
Others asked if taxpayers had paid for Michelle Obama’s gown.
Fox News’ Todd Starnes, a broadcaster who has complained that President Barack Obama is eroding American values, also weighed in: “Tonight was supposed to be about Hollywood — but Mrs. Obama made it about herself.”
But despite accusations that the Obamas had pushed to insert themselves into Hollywood’s biggest night, the first lady’s appearance was in fact the brainstorm of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein’s teenaged daughter.
Lily Weinstein helped her father and Oscars producers work out the details with the White House two weeks ago, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
“I loved that we pulled it off,” Hawk Koch, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, told the publication on Monday.
Koch also revealed that Jack Nicholson, who introduced the first lady, was standing by with the results in a second envelope in case there were any technical problems with the satellite feed.
Michelle Obama’s communications director, Kristina Schake, also made clear that the Oscars made the overtures to the first lady.
“The Academy Awards approached the first lady about being a part of the ceremony,” she said. “As a movie lover, she was honoured to present the award and celebrate the artists who inspire us all — especially our young people — with their passion, skill and imagination.”