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May 22nd, 2009
11:59 AM ET

First spouses second to none

Tom Foreman | Bio
AC360° Correspondent

The French have a remarkable talent for irritating Americans with their fancy wines, fluffy poodles, and snotty attitudes about cycling. But when it comes to picking First Ladies, you’ve got to hand it to them. And that’s saying something considering the extraordinary popularity of our own Première Femme, Michelle Obama.

Seriously, have you been keeping up with the adventures of French President Sarkozy’s wife, Carla Bruni? Anyone who follows international news knew that we were in for a treat the moment she alighted on his arm, and she has met every expectation: From crooning songs about drug abuse, to being locked in a legal battle with a company that was selling shopping bags bearing her nude image.

Most recently, the former supermodel (an appellation with which, alas, I too am tagged) has once again stormed the headlines by lighting into the Pope, saying his views on contraception are hurting the fight against AIDS in Africa. Like President Obama’s Notre Dame speech here, the kerfuffle certainly does not involve all the Catholics in her country, but still at the original Notre Dame…mon Dieu!

Maybe the uproar would be less uproarious if it were not for another recent story swirling around her, namely a Paris burglary that netted one lucky thief hundreds of photographs of a Bruni taken during her years with a former lover; photographs described as “highly intimate.” Phrases like that need no translation.

And during a recent interview, she scandalized the country by referring to her husband with a French term of affection that means “my little cauliflower.” Mind you, I’m not sure why this would be scandalous, especially in France, where topless beaches are as common as McDonalds here. Apparently for the French, vegetables are embarrassing but melons are fine. Or something like that.

For all our feigned frustration, I think many of us, along with our French cousins, secretly adore each other and all for the same reason: We each think the other country is at least mildly crazy. Can you imagine the uproar here if the nation suddenly found out that a First Lady had been photographed extensively au naturel? We’ve been carrying on for weeks about Michelle Obama wearing sleeveless dresses for crying out loud. Bare arms? Zut!

Still, the very real influence of these two ladies on their cultures and frankly, on the world’s, should not be underestimated. Much has been written about the new age of the earth’s leaders, but don’t think it is just the elected ones who are changing politics as we know it. Between Michelle’s growing legions of fans and Carla’s candor, the Golden Age of First Spouses may also be coming on strong.

soundoff (9 Responses)
  1. Charlotte D

    Tom–you overlooked a very important point. Our first lady has a French first name–mon Dieu! Michelle and Carla could be fifth cousins three times removed. This means that if there are naked pictures of Carla, by extension, this reflects badly on Michelle. Lets hope that Limbaugh or Cheney do not read your posts. They will trash talk Michelle and accuse her of preferring French wine and eating snails. Hannity will go balistic and poor Glen Beck will need to be carried away. Zut.

    Charlotte D
    Stockton Ca

    May 22, 2009 at 3:52 pm |
  2. Sarah

    JLM, its the women next to them not behind them! in every sence of the word

    May 22, 2009 at 3:25 pm |
  3. Carolyn Bongiorno

    Carla Bruni is M. Sarkozy's third wife; he met his second wife, Cecilia, while they were both married to other people. Cecilia kicked his derriere to the curb in a very public fashion, flaunting her extra-marital affair (he also had a paramour) and refusing to move into the Elysee Palace with her newly elected husband. I think the republic breathed a sigh of relief when these two ended it.

    Carla has been an extraordinary rebound for Nicolas. She had recently been dumped by the father of her son; she had every motive to play nice. She toned down her profligacy and has been a stellar consort ever since. (She had already broken up a marriage.)

    No one is surprised that there are "hundreds" of nude photos of Ms. Bruni-Sarkozy.

    Michelle Obama represents a different culture. She and her husband are in a first marriage and all their children were born in wedlock. She has never been a model, but is a lawyer. She became a member of the elite through hard work, not through becoming a rock star's arm candy. (Bruni had been linked to Eric Clapton and Mick Jagger, among others.)

    Both First Ladies are loving, supportive wives and mothers who had careers. While Michelle's scandal involved controversial comments, Carla's scandals were all in her past. Both women are in the spotlight and embraced by the citizens of their nations.

    May 22, 2009 at 2:26 pm |
  4. JoAnn

    Funny Tom, you must be hanging around with Jack.

    @Cindy, lighten up every one is entitled to their opinon, even you.

    May 22, 2009 at 2:24 pm |
  5. JLW

    Sorry, Cindy, I have to disagree. You can always tell the character of a man by the woman behind him. Michelle rocks, and is a total class act. As for Carla, she's a beautiful woman with an equally beautiful mind. First ladies DO matter.

    May 22, 2009 at 1:54 pm |
  6. Tracy

    As the first lady of a church I beg to differ with Cindy. Don't assume for even a minute that First Ladies don't impact policy decisions. It's in their private quarters that the First Men can really debate all sides of the issues with someone that he trusts absolutely and with someone who fully supports him even if they disagree. That's when his mind is changed or is given a perspective that isn't heavily coated in politics and self-ambition. And if anyone is going to tell him like it really is – it's going to be his wife.

    Make no mistake that when the First Lady goes on the offensive it's because she wants to...even if her Firs Man can't. She can say and do things that he can't. She's already spoken her mind to her husband so he knows what's coming. These are women who are indpendent and not afriad of rocking the board. They are role models for me and my daughter.

    May 22, 2009 at 1:51 pm |
  7. Yvadne

    I think our first lady is fabulous! Her speeches to young girls is inspiring the next generation of ladies to aim higher than they may have previously considered possible.

    The first lady of France may need to crack open a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Many adult cradle Catholics have not bothered to learn anything about their faith since school days. I was once a Sunday-go-to-Mass Catholic. I am now having a ball learning more and more about my faith and cultivating a real relationship with my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

    May 22, 2009 at 1:38 pm |
  8. Alex (NYC)

    There are women, there are some women and there are extraordinary women. Pick and choose whoever you want I suppose.

    May 22, 2009 at 12:56 pm |
  9. Cindy

    I really could care less what any first lady from any country says. They aren't the ones making the laws or decisions so what do their thoughts matter?

    Carla is just someone that always wants attention so she does things that will bring attention to herself. There's another nastier word for it but I'll be nice!

    Cindy...Ga.

    May 22, 2009 at 12:16 pm |