First Ladies get to Learn how to do it well UPDATE: AUDIO

Hey, a great dress is a great dress. I love.

“One of the things that I don’t do well is this. . .Do you understand?”


That was our First Lady, not having one of her best moments while dealing with a heckler at (what else?) a fundraiser.

Obama was addressing a Democratic Party fundraiser in a private Kalorama home in Northwest Washington when Ellen Sturtz, 56, a lesbian activist interrupted her remarks to demand that President Obama sign an anti-discrimination executive order.

Obama showed her displeasure – pausing to confront Sturtz eye to eye, according to witnesses.
“One of the things that I don’t do well is this,” she said to applause from most of the guests, according to a White House transcript. “Do you understand?”

A pool report from a reporter in the room said Obama “left the lectern and moved over to the protester.” The pool report quoted Obama as saying: “Listen to me or you can take the mic, but I’m leaving. You all decide. You have one choice.”

Obama’s suggestion that she would leave were not included in the official White House transcript.
The audience responded by asking Obama to remain, according to the pool report, which quoted a woman nearby telling Sturtz, “You need to go.”

Sturtz was escorted out of the room. She said in an interview later she was stunned by Obama’s response.
“She came right down in my face,” Sturtz said. “I was taken aback.”

It’s not that shocking, I guess, for this administration. Joe Biden once had a journalist locked in a closet when he spoke at a fundraiser. Team Obama doesn’t seem to love the first amendment, whether its rights are being exercised by people giving them money, people giving them glorious press, or people honoring them and praying for and with them. They’re funny that way.

Not funny, ha-ha. Just…funny.

Was the heckler out of line? Sure. But it’s the heckler’s nature to be out of line, and that’s when a bit of grace or wit puts things aright. Saying “I can’t deal…” that’s a deficiency the office can’t afford.

That line killed me, though: “One of the things that I don’t do well is this. . .Do you understand?”

Work on it, Mrs. Obama. Really work on it. Because free citizens are allowed to question, to mock, and even to heckle, as long as they’re not inciting violence. And you’re the First Lady of a nation that, we are told, still honors this idea. Oppressed peoples still come here, because whatever else America has been, it is still the place where even poor presidents, even disliked presidents, have experienced heckling and responded to it by either answering with substance, or grace, or wit, or by reminding the assembly that it’s alright to speak up in America, even to the biggest man or woman in the room.

Do you understand? You don’t really get to say, “I don’t handle this well” as though it’s an option — something you can leave off your First Lady plate. You get to learn how to handle it well, because it is an immense privilege to serve a citizenry that has put you into power. The service begins with listening — and in responding to people in a way that well-may-be better than they seem to deserve specifically because you, yourself, have been placed into a position so honored, so privileged, that you can afford to.

Yes, yes, the peasants are revolting. But in America, they still get to hoist up their slacks and bellow their questions. And you get to answer them like a lady. Like the First Lady.

Not, however, like the queen.

Washington Post has the audio. You have to listen closely, to hear the whole “…but I’m leaving. You all decide. You have one choice.”

Ed Morrissey says nah, Mrs. Obama did alright!

Choosing Words Wisely: Insights on Improving Communication Skills

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • RelapsedCatholic

    Does this go for the Romney campaign events and town halls where dissenters were screened and excluded as well? How about when Ann Romney declared that they had released all the tax returns that ‘You people’ were entitled to?

    This knife cuts both ways.

  • MeanLizzie

    You seem to have mistaken me for someone who liked Mitt Romney. That said, unfortunately all pols do the screening and excluding thing far, far too much, but this was a fundraiser the heckler had a $500 ticket entitling her to attend, not some freebie where there was more risk. As to Ann Romney, you’re kidding me, right? You’re going to compare her remark (when she was NOT first lady) to members of the press — not constituents — who had been as ungenerous to her as they could be (and by the way, how DID Harry Reid and the DNC seem to know so very much about the Romney tax filings?) to this hash from a woman who has been first lady for 5 years and has rec’d nothing but praise and glory for almost every minute of it? You’re going to compare Ann Romney to an administration that locks journalists in a closet that’s your comparison of gracelessness?

    Moreover — why does this have to be about what anyone else did? That’s a completely FALSE and distracting tactic that has nothing to do with what Michelle Obama did. This isn’t about “left vs right.” Should I now compare Laura Bush so the argument can further devolve away from Mrs. Obama? This is not about anyone but her. She handled herself poorly. She must do better, because we deserve a first lady who can do better. Period.

  • Chesire11

    What a colossal load of nonsense!

    The First Amendment is utterly irrelevant to the situation. The First Amendment prohibits the state from censoring the speech of the people. Unless you can point to a threat to use the coercive power of the state to prevent the heckler from, or to punish her for interrupting the First Lady, there is no more of a First Amendment issue at play here than is raised by your policy of moderating comments prior to allowing them to appear on your blog.

    The First Lady responding to a heckler (by definition a person using speech to disrupt communication, not to engage in it) at a private event at a private home by threatening to silence HERSELF ain’t a threat to the First Amendment rights of anybody, and it is patently silly to imply that it does!

  • Chesire11

    “Why does this have to do about what anyone else did?”

    Perhaps because selective outrage – a specialty of political partisans – indicts the objectivity of the commentary?

  • MeanLizzie

    Oh, I’m not outraged. I am gobsmacked. But my gobsmackedness isn’t selective. To be selective, I’d have had to have given a “pass” to something equally graceless said by Ann Romney (and that, if she was in Mrs. Obama’s position), but I paid almost no attention to Romney b/c I never for a moment thought she’d be our First Lady. Having said that, I can guarantee you that were Ms Romney the First Lady, saying those words, I’d feel precisely the same way, and say the same things. Also had Laura Bush. There are just some things we need to be able to expect from our President and First Lady.

  • MeanLizzie

    Everything is either appropriate or not. When a heckler (inappropriate) heckles, someone in a position of unique power and leadership either responds appropriately (a bit of humor, or wit, or grace) or inapproprirately, “do you want to take the mic and I’ll just leave?” It relates to the first amendment in an overall, if general, effect of intimidation. Shut up one heckler, you’ll be sure to get no more rude or difficult questions. Or did you actually believe that Mrs. Obama was going to leave and silence herself?

  • Chesire11

    Because you have said your outrage is not selective, I will take your word for it unless I observe otherwise (cue ominous chords in a minor key).

    I also agree with you that we do need to be able to expect certain standards from our political leaders (and yes, I do include the First Lady in that category). I would hope that you would agree with that those who set out to shape opinion (especially from a Catholic perspective) should likewise be expected to uphold certain standards of discourse…refraining from mockery, misrepresentation, or otherwise appealing to emotion rather than reason.

  • Chesire11

    The First Amendment protects the individual (and the press) from state censorship. It does not protect their delicate sensibilities from being embarrassed or intimidated by someone calling them out for being an ass, which is precisely what happened in this exchange. If a person finds being scolded by a prominent person intimidating, then I suggest that he/she probably should not act like a jackass.

    If you find the First Lady’s conduct inappropriate, fine, say that it’s inappropriate, graceless, distasteful, whatever…who knows, I might even agree with you (not really, but it makes me sound more reasonable than I generally am). Trying to construe it as some sort of violation of the Bill of Rights is not only hyperbolic, but it’s just plain misleading.

  • MeanLizzie

    I think you’ll find that where Mrs. Obama is concerned I am generally pretty darned fair, even if I don’t like her husband much. I admit, I usually am talking about her clothes, but whether I like something she’s wearing or not, I’m usually talking about the piece, not the woman. As to ‘shaping opinion from a Catholic perspective’ and what that entails, I don’t think this post has mocked, nor misrepresented, nor appealed to emotion. It has observed, criticized and mentioned some troubling facts, with links provided. But I am always a tiny bit leery of ppl who come into my comboxes to suggest that my Catholicism precludes my right to speak a critical thought — that somehow I am supposed to be “nice” unto benign banality, or I’m not a “good” and “edifying” Christian. Too often, that’s just a kind of shushing tyranny meant to shut someone up.

    I tend to take ppl in good faith until they prove to me that I ought not, I am not the sweetest girl on the block, but I do try to keep it all above-board. Heading to bed. Goodnight.

  • Fabio Paolo Barbieri

    I can assure you that the Queen would never be so rude. The standard of this is more like the poor person in psychiatric care who THINKS she’s the Queen.

  • Fabio Paolo Barbieri

    Yes, yes, we get it. You are outraged that anyone should dare to criticize Madame la Premiere Presidente. I think myself that Ms.Scalia has been entirely too polite with you, and that an invitation to grow up and learn to live with real people would have been more than enough.

  • MeanLizzie

    Frankly, if she’d said “don’t be a jackass” to the heckler, I’d likely have found it somewhat refreshing — that’s the sort of thing a politician or his wife can get away with (or perhaps once upon a time could have) as being authentically off-the-cuff and familiar in a pub and bbq fashion. It’s the sort of thing that perhaps Jackie Kennedy wouldn’t say, but Bess Truman or Eleanor Roosevelt might. As to your accusation of hyperbole and misleading, I reject it. You’re talking about the law I’m talking about the spirit of it. Both may matter, and so I’ll call it a draw. :-) And now I AM going to bed!

  • Chesire11

    The queen reference and graphic sure look like mockery to me, but perhaps I am misinterpreting something, but the conflation of her response to a heckler with violating a person’s constitutional rights is misleading.

    In any case, I would never wish to suggest that Catholicism mandates banality, or (even worse) “niceness.” Catholicism is lively, assertive and bold as only truth can be! Heck, my posts this evening have been anything but nice or mild. I have read enough of your writing at First Things (particularly your excellent piece on “The Intrinsic Disorder of Me”) to value what you have to contribute, and understand how able you are to elevate the dialogue without once retreating into pablum and bromides. I’m not saying you should “shut up,” but that you speak “up.”.

  • Chesire11

    G’night! :)

  • Chesire11

    No, I’m not outraged that Ms. Scalia has criticized the First Lady. I am annoyed that her criticism was frivolous, and dressed up as an outrage that really didn’t exist. I do find it ironic, however, that you DO seem to be genuinely outraged that I had the temerity to criticize Ms. Scalia’s presentation of the situation. (Pot, meet kettle. Kettle, this is Mr. Pot…)

  • Nordog6561

    “The First Lady responding to a heckler (by definition a person using speech to disrupt communication, not to engage in it) at a private event at a private home by threatening to silence HERSELF ain’t a threat to the First Amendment rights of anybody, and it is patently silly to imply that it does!”
    Who are you responding to? I didn’t see anyone accuse the FLOTUS of violating the heckler’s free speech rights.
    I did see an observation that the Obama crowd have shown problems with respecting the 1st Amendment. That’s a fair observation too.
    But hey, I may have missed it.
    Where was it? The claim that FLOTUS violated this heckler’s 1st Amendment right?

  • Gail Finke

    I have been at events when public officials from local neighborhood council leaders to the President of the United States have been heckled, sometimes by jerks and sometimes by people who were obviously unbalanced. At a rally for President Bush (not a fan, but the President of the United States had a rally on a public square I could walk to from work so why not go?) where quite a few people heckled him the whole time he spoke. None of them threatened to pack up their toys and go home. Elizabeth Scalia is right, that’s not too much to expect from the First Lady of the Free World, particularly after five years.

  • Manny

    I thought Michelle was going to follow in Hillary’s footsteps and run for Senate after Barack’s term, if he doesn’t get impeached of course. I’m not sure if this is a career killer, but he shows she doesn’t have the minimal skills to run for office.

  • MeanLizzie

    In fact, you ARE misinterpreting. Had I wanted to mock Mrs. Obama, I would have used the photoshopped graphic of her dressed up like Marie Antionette and searching the globe for her next vacation and suggesting that perhaps she needed another one. THAT would be mockery. Instead I used an image (and a pretty one, at that) in an editorial/ironic manner, based on my final line. Other editors had used the same image in a glowing piece about her. You see mockery. I see a visual editorial comment about Mrs. Obama (and others, perhaps) not quite getting her role. It was, in my editorial opinion, a sound ending to my piece. Your mileage may vary.

  • Chesire11

    “Team Obama doesn’t seem
    to love the first amendment… free citizens are allowed to question, to
    mock, and even to heckle, as long as they’re not inciting violence.” That (and really the entire piece) refers to the First Amendment protection of free speech, which Ms. Scalia appears to think the First lady insufficiently honors.

  • Chesire11

    There is a difference between a private event and a public event. It would be inappropriate for a president speaking at a public event to threaten to cancel the event when heckled. This was a private event in a private home being addressed by the First Lady. I have absolutely no problem whatsoever with her scolding the childish antics of an intentionally disruptive participant as well, childish antics.

  • Chesire11

    Good morning. If you don;t want to talk about the law, then why did you invoke a legal document?

  • Chesire11

    Though not all irony is mockery, all mockery is ironic. Most often it is by context that nature of the comment reveals itself. Throughout the piece, you judge the incident through the lens of a presumption that the Obama administration is uniquely intolerant of criticism, and then use that to confirm the preconception. When you round that out with the queen metaphor…yeah, that’s mockery, however hard you try to backpedal.

  • Chesire11

    Impeached for what??? Impeachment isn’t simply a tool for cancelling the results of an election that didn’t turn out the way you hoped! A president kind of needs to commit a “high crime or misdemeanor” in order to be impeached. Impeachment is a grave matter which, even when warranted, has grave consequences for the Republic, and should be considered only with great reluctance. The fact that so many alleged conservatives actually hope for impeachment shows how radicalized, and irresponsible they have become.

  • hotboogers

    Yes, because we (well, the “we” that is well-connected enough to be invited and who could pay to attend the event) are so blessed just to have her in the same room, breathing the same air as the rest of us. Threatening to leave truly is the worst punishment for allowing undeserving hoi-polloi into the area.
    Funny, I hadn’t heard about the journo locked in a closet … ?
    Manny, I don’t get the feeling that MO is as personally ambitious as Hillary … the impression I get is that she loves her high life and being queen, but she would not really enjoy the grinding work of political campaigning. It would be a great deal more work than what she has given to support BO. She has outed herself so very many times in her various events for BO … the slip about “for the first time, I am proud of my country” is just the most infamous example. I think that indicates, not only that she has attitude issues, but that she just doesn’t want to be there doing that kind of thing, the grinding political thing. The events at which she looks/behaves best are the various children’s events she presides over; she seems to enjoy those kinds of things … the gardening, the sack races, etc. She certainly could win the Senate in Illinois; she could campaign almost solely in Chicago and East St Louis and win it in a walk. Will she though? I doubt she has the work ethic. But I could be wrong.

  • MVH1

    Don’t be a jerk,, Elizabeth. This was a private fund raiser. People paid a lot of money to hear Mrs. Obama, not this idiot heckler who is with a particularly obnoxious, loud and disruptive group. So she doesn’t like getting back what she dishes? Too damn bad.

  • Fiestamom

    Usually public figures are taught how to respond to this kind of behavior. Interesting that she responds so negatively to someone who is probably on the same page politically.

    It is concerning that the White House scrubbed her remarks in the transcript.

  • MeanLizzie

    It was late last night. I meant to write ‘you’re talking about the letter of the law. I’m talking about the spirit.” You can split all the hairs you want, get as technical as you want and continue to try to make the point that in terms of legality, technically this is not a free speech blah blah. Fact remains, this was a moment (public or private) that could have been instructive about the freedom we have to speak out. Instead, it became something the first lady “can’t do.”

    As in: I can’t do people getting in my face rudely when I’m talking. Even if my husband told people they should be willing to get up in people’s faces, rudely! :-)

    You’re clearly going to continue to run this argument all day, and you’re welcome here — I run a civil combox — but I have two articles to write, two jobs to set up, and one writer having a meltdown, so I haven’t the time to address this over and over again. (Did you see what I did there? I heard you; allowed, even encouraged you to speak your piece while making myself clear. It’s not that hard, really. I didn’t say “I can’t do this….” and shut you down. And I’m a true peasant. It’s not that difficult, which is why other president’s wives have managed it.)

    Mrs. Obama’s behavior is of-a-piece with the whole administration’s rather unimpressive record on allowing people to be who and what they are, around them, whether it’s the journalist shoved into the closet, or the churches told they mustn’t be what they are except in the privacy of their church walls. I stipulate that hecklers and heckling are rude and usually dumb and pointless. But how a person handles that tells you a great deal about what they believe. “I’ll be happy to talk to you later” says something positive. “My husband is committed to improving conditions everywhere for the gay community, but right now, we’re talking about children, and I know you believe that’s important, too.” Is slick but still positive. “Don’t be a jackass; you know the president has your back” is chummy and to the point. Any of those responses would have been good; they would have been positive, respectful, the rising tide that lifts all boats. On the other hand “this is something I don’t do well, do you understand? I’m going to leave, do you all want that? You have one choice” is negative and I maintain speaks volumes about a mindset that hasn’t much time for individual people or the free expression of ideas they’re not in the mood for.

    So, yeah. I’m sticking to my piece. And I’m moving on to other work. Have a good day.

  • George

    I am no fan of the current administration, but this is just a silly cheap shot. The first amendment does not give one the right to protest inside a private fundraiser. Similarly, protesters of the Church have no right to bring their protest inside the Cathedral.

  • Chesire11

    Like I wrote before, if you found her manner graceless, I disagree with you, but that’s a matter of subjective perception. I agree that there probably were more deft ways of handling the heckler, and I wholeheartedly agree with your assessment of the Obama administration’s scandalous attempt to divorce freedom of belief from freedom of practice, and freedom of worship from freedom of conscience.

    My objection wasn’t to your opinion, but to your appeals to the Constitution (spirit or letter) to justify them.

    Not wishing to further beat a dead horse, and having work to which I too must attend, I’ll let the matter drop, and wish you a good day as well.

  • Janet

    You can’t compare Laura Bush to Michelle cause Mrs. Bush far exceeds her and had integrity and class.

  • Andrea Shea King

    Thank you, Elizabeth. To complement your piece, our friends at Motus’ Mirror have addressed this with biting satire.

    This is blistering. Take THAT, Madame DeFarge…

  • Nordog6561

    I think Ms. Scalia is correct to think FLOTUS insufficiently honors the 1st Amendment.
    And I think it appropriate to mention such in this article.
    While I agree that a heckler being stared down by a FLOTUS while at a private gathering in a private home is not a violation of free speech, it would be wrong to conclude that the Obama crowd would agree.
    In any event, the event illustrates how the FLOTUS approaches civil disobedience: When we do it it’s free speech, when “they” do it it’s unacceptable.

  • leelu


    Question for those of you who apparently didn’t like the post, for whatever reason… what do you think of Ms. Obama’s response/behavior?

  • Chesire11

    There would have been more deft ways of handling the heckler, but the response was entirely warranted by the situation. When a person acts like an ass, and imagines that his or her moral right to be heard supercedes the moral rights of others to speak, or to hear a speaker they paid to hear, well…you deserve to metaphorically slapped down.

  • Chesire11


  • Chesire11

    Transcripts are taken from audio recordings, not from press reports. I have heard the audio from the event, and the comments in question were unintelligible. I don’t know if the White House has a better recording, however.

  • John Rebori

    Not sure it will come to actual impeachment, but I will remind you that the second count on the Articles of Impeachment that forced Nixon to resign, the count written by Hillary Rodham, was attempting to use the IRS to target political opponents.
    Should the current investigation proceed far enough up the chain, there is precedent for it to lead to impeachment.

  • John Rebori

    However she didn’t simply scold the heckler, she basically told the other paying attendees that since she was not happy with someone talking up to her, she was going to go home and they could suffer for it.
    Do you think there would have been any refunds after she walked out?

  • Manny

    If it’s proven that Obama personally turned the IRS on to his enemies, then that is an impeachable offense. There is established precedent. The second article of impeachment against Richard Nixon was just that! The Liberals at the time created the precedent.

  • Skay

    Every once in a while the true personality of Michelle Obama comes through.

  • Strife

    I admit it: I love it when the Left eat their own.

    It’s inevitable. And that (in and of itself) gives me ultimate Hope.

    There. I said it.

  • Chesire11

    Michelle Obama is a graduate of Princeton University, and went on to receive her law degree from Harvard Law School. She has practiced law, served as an Assistant Dean at the University of Chicago, and been a VP of University of Chicago Hospitals.

    What would make you question her work ethic?

  • tedseeber

    ABSOLUTELY! It goes for anybody putting themselves into the public light and a lifestyle that requires scrutiny.

    A year ago I had a painter in my Knights of Columbus Council request my help in transforming his business- he was getting too old and his knees were giving out, but he had training in lead-based paint mitigation, so he wanted to form a lead-based paint mitigation company, and he needed an online presence.

    I got him his online presence, and his business failed after just three months.

    We canceled his adsense account with google and took his webpage down.

    Recently, I had to move our council e-mail list from, which stopped working entirely, to googlegroups, which requires opt in and has a lot more privacy features. This painter refuses to do it. Why? Because he’s still getting calls on his cell phone from people looking for the lead-based paint inspection business, and he blamed google for that.

    I took a look- I googled lead based paint inspection Oregon, and couldn’t find his name in the first 200 listings. BUT I did find, in the very first listing, the Oregon State CCB webpage, which lists him as one of only 5 contractors in the state doing lead based paint inspection.

    Long story short (too late), I needed to give this 68 year old man a lesson on Internet Privacy and what is private and what is public information…..and I still don’t think he will be signing up for the new council e-mail lists.

  • tedseeber

    “how DID Harry Reid and the DNC seem to know so very much about the Romney tax filings”

    The same way you can with anybody. IRS returns are public information and can be requested.

  • tedseeber

    ” or otherwise appealing to emotion rather than reason.”

    I’ve always wondered, why isn’t emotion a part of reason?

  • Chesire11

    So you’re tossing around impeachment as a possibility based upon a hypothetical that has absolutely no evidence to suggest it might be true?

  • Chesire11

    Absolutely! Using any powers of office or agency of the state to retaliate against, or to suppress political opponents would be an impeachable offense. Of course, the fact that there is no evidence to indicate that anything of the sort has taken place kind of makes talk of impeachment sound kind of silly.

  • Becky

    I think the Obamas have done plenty of things that good Catholics should be outraged about. This is not among them. I have no idea how I would respond to a heckler if I encountered one while making a speech, and I don’t judge the first lady for handling this inelegantly since, you know, she wasn’t expecting it. This post just seems petty and snarky.

  • Victor


    Forgive the yelling but after taking so much of sinner vic’s “TIME” all that should be said is that all of U>S (usual sinners) could write a book about these links alone and leave “IT” at that for NOW. Instead, me, myself and i will say, another great post Anchoress and those commenters just add greatness to “IT” NOW!

    Don’t pay Victor and/or give him any attention whatsoever Mean, L, “I” mean Ladies cause truth be known, he’s probably the “ONE” who his driving some of your write hers, “I” mean writers crazy NOW! Long story short, Anchoress, if he sends you another email asking why you didn’t allow his last email, just tell him like you did in the old days, stuff like you honestly didn’t see “IT” and if Victor doesn’t believe that, just tell him that the hackers and/or that The C.I.A have their eyes on him. Even better, just blame “IT” on his so called Canadian F.B.I. cause this is no longer a game of Check hers, “I” mean checkers, we gods are playing are playing real Ches, “I” mean Chess NOW! “IT” is not funny and short her, “I” mean longer, when his so called “ONE” per sent age “Jesus” cell is telling priest that his other “ONE” per sent age retard soul cell is using our 98% godly cells to spread manure that “Jesus” told him that GOD (Good Old Dad) is going to wake UP ADAM and/or is that put ADAM back to sleep NOW! Longer story short, Victor shouldn’t be allowed to say a DAM “Word” and…….

    End YA say sinner vic?

    Be NICE Victor! :(

    Go Figure brothers and sisters NOW!? :)


    Go Figure brothers and sisters in Christ :)