‘YoMama’ reference to Michelle Obama leads to, yes, an apology


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Note to those politicians inclined to take supposedly private potshots at First Lady Michelle Obama: Go ahead and get the apology ready. Kansas House Speaker Mike O’Neal learned this the hard way -- and he’s not the first.

O’Neal had to make a less-than-graceful public apology Thursday for forwarding a private email that found its way into the hands of the Lawrence Journal-World.

“I’m sure you’ll join me in wishing Mrs. YoMama a wonderful, long Hawaii Christmas vacation — at our expense, of course,” the chain email read, including an unflattering photo comparing Michelle Obama’s hairstyle to that of the Grinch.


“Sorry, just had to forward this latest holiday message,” O’Neal added in the email. “I’ve had worse hair days, but this is pretty funny.”

When the inevitable backlash came, O’Neal’s office stumbled, first defending the email — “It’s hard to see how Mike O’Neal poking fun at himself and forwarding a lighthearted political cartoon about the first lady’s extravagant spending of taxpayer funds during a time when many Americans are financially struggling is newsworthy,” his office said in a statement — before the Kansas speaker later apologized.

“Cartoons are intended to be humorous,” O’Neal said in another statement, also published in the Kansas City Star. “This one made me laugh — I’ve had bad hair days too. I forwarded it too quickly missing the text included in the body of the email. To those I have offended, I am sorry. That was not at all my intent.”

O’Neal said he hadn’t seen the text calling Obama “Mrs. YoMama” before forwarding it to a few other Kansas lawmakers.

The email has been far from the only recent conservative snipe at the first lady’s physical appearance.

Wisconsin lawmaker Jim Sensenbrenner inspired facepalms after saying at a pre-Christmas church function that Obama had a “big butt.’ He too apologized. Of course, that wasn’t a particularly original jab; host Rush Limbaugh had also recently gotten physical with the first lady, in a manner of speaking, criticizing her figure in light of her healthy eating initiatives:

‘The problem is, and dare I say this, it doesn’t look like Michelle Obama follows her own nutritionary, dietary advice... I’m trying to say that our first lady does not project the image of women that you might see on the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit Issue or of a woman Alex Rodriguez might date every six months or what have you.’


Not being a politician, Limbaugh didn’t apologize.

On Thursday, The Times’ Christopher Knight, over at the Culture Monster blog, decried a “baldly racist” depiction of Obama in a revised 1775 portrait of Marie Antoinette that appeared on the conservative blog Gateway Pundit. The caricature features the first lady’s biceps and a hand drawn conspicuously in front of the globe.

“The caricature of Obama as a profligate queen relies on the racist stereotype of an ‘uppity Negro,’ which emerged among slave masters in an earlier American era,” Knight wrote. “Obama, born into a working-class Chicago family whose roots are traced to the pre-Civil War South, graduated from Princeton University and Harvard Law School, prior to holding several high-level positions in the academic and private sectors.”

The first lady’s office has not commented on any of these jabs, so when word got out about O’Neal’s email Thursday, it was Kansas Democrats who took to her defense.

Joan Wagnon, the leader of the Kansas Democratic Party, told the Star that she found the email “highly offensive, disrespectful and unacceptable.”

“Regardless of how he feels about President (Barack) Obama’s politics, Speaker O’Neal’s decision to promote language demeaning Mrs. Obama is simply wrong,” Wagnon said.



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-- Matt Pearce in Kansas City, Mo.