June 15, 2008 -- Like Eleanor Roosevelt and Hillary Clinton before her, Michelle Obama is becoming the would-be first lady conservatives love to hate.
The conservative National Review recently showed a stern-faced Michelle Obama on its cover, under the headline, "Mrs. Grievance." The Tennessee Republican Party questioned her patriotism.
Michelle Obama has become a favorite target for critics, drawing many to compare her arrival on the national stage to Hillary Clinton's after she infuriated conservatives when she said, "I could have stayed home and baked cookies."
It's likely to get worse.
"It's going to be very ugly stuff," Democratic strategist Tad Devine said. "They're going to try to depict her as someone who is angry, outside the mainstream and not proud to be an American."
How did a 44-year-old Harvard Law School graduate become so demonized? One reason is the increasingly viral quality of the Internet.
"In an environment now that is increasingly polarizing and nasty, charges can be made, often unsubstantiated charges through the Web," said Stuart Rothenberg, editor of the Rothenberg Political Report. "We're in an environment now where being a first lady is a lot tougher job than it used to be."
Google "Michelle Obama" and the term "whitey" and you'll find conservative bloggers claiming a video shows her using the racially tinged term at Trinity Church. No tape has ever surfaced. But the claim helped prompt the Obama campaign to launch its own Web site, FighttheSmears.com.
Much of the criticism stems from Michelle Obama's artless statement early in the campaign that, "For the first time in my adult lifetime I'm really proud of my country."
The campaign immediately clarified that to say that she meant she was prouder than ever. And she was defended on "Good Morning America" by first lady Laura Bush, who said, "I think she probably meant 'I'm more proud,' you know, is what she really meant."
But the statement was lampooned in a Tennessee GOP advertisement that juxtaposed her statement with those of supposedly ordinary citizens, one of whom played pool in a room lined with rifles who said, "I've always been proud to be an American."
Even John McCain, who was himself the target of a malicious smear campaign in the 2000 primary that claimed he had fathered an illegitimate child, when asked about attacks on her, said, "I've never met her, Mrs. Obama, she's a talented and a very effective person."
On "Good Morning America" recently, candidate Obama offered this warning: "These folks should lay off my wife, all right?"
The candidate was expected to offer a very different view of his wife, and his family, in a Father's Day speech in Chicago today, with wife Michelle at his side.