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Why we love the Obama's being in love

Judith Ireland
Published: January 28, 2013 - 11:58PM

Of all the iconic images of the United States presidential inauguration this week - the red, white and blue banners, the marching bands and stylish array of winter coats - one will be remembered above all else: the President and First Lady having the first dance at the Commander-in-Chief's Ball.

Against the dramatic backdrop (floordrop?) of the presidential seal - he in a snappy tux, she in a knockout red dress - Barack Obama bowed slightly to Michelle before the two swayed slowly to the soul tune, Let's Stay Together.

For two minutes, as they canoodled, sang and chatted, it was just like watching a loved-up bridal waltz.

Such a public and unselfconscious display of affection was business as usual for the Obamas. At the last inauguration ball they had a similarly affectionate dance to Etta James' At Last. Some even expressed disappointment that the 2013 dance was not as melting a moment as 2009.

As POTUS and FLOTUS, the Obamas are already the ultimate political power couple. But their public loving ensures they are also held up as one of our favourite non-fiction pairings (Wills and Kate, eat your hearts out).

Obama claimed victory in the election last year by tweeting a photo of him and his wife hugging, captioned: "four more years". In the White House's "2012: A Year in Photos", Barack and Michelle are touching in nearly every snap where they appear together: Obama with his arm around his wife while they farewell Israeli President Shimon Peres from a White House dinner. The two embracing on the campaign trail. Michelle with one hand on her heart, the other on Barack's knee during a wedding ceremony.

It's not only about body language. The wordy stuff is there too. In October, Barack took a break from the trail to tweet: "Twenty years ago today, I married the love of my life and my best friend. Happy anniversary, Michelle. -bo." Michelle posted: "Happy 20th anniversary, Barack. Thank you for being an incredible partner, friend, and father every day. I love you! -mo."

Obama's campaign also released a 3½-minute video about their love story (the two had their first date at an art museum) that includes footage of him feeding her ice-cream.

Add to this the Democratic National Convention speeches in which they professed their love for each other, amongst their policy hopes for America. And Obama's tribute to his wife this week: "I've got a date with me here. She inspires me every day. She makes me a better man and a better president … I'm just lucky to have her."

It's actually kind of smug when you think about it. A little bit puke. If it's that good, do you need to protest so much?

And yet, people love the Obamas in love.

The crowd booed last year when the Obamas didn't kiss for the "kiss cam" at a basketball game (cheering when they kissed on the second attempt). There are online photo galleries collating their various hugs and kisses. When the two have a "date night", it is headline news.

It's as though everyone's personal space has been invaded and no one seems to mind.

But odd as this seems, (and it does seem odd), it shows how mighty the personal and political are when combined. It has long been recognised that Michelle - and their relaxed, photogenic kids - put a human and homespun spin on Obama. If he's got such a happy home life, the guy must be all right.

Perhaps even mightier is the fact that in projecting domestic bliss, Obama is also giving people something to believe in.

He was elected four years ago on the back of some serious "hope" and "change". But as hopeful as people were about change, it has since copped a bollocking, courtesy of things like the US political system and the global economy.

However, in a world where marriages fail regularly and celebrity marriages fail spectacularly, the Obamas are an ideal and idealised constant. They've talked about enough tough times in their relationship so that other people can relate (they had no money when they were young, she forgot their first anniversary). But despite two decades and undeniable work stresses, they are still in love, in aspirational proportions (he tucks her in at night). To modernise the package, they also present as equals - even when one of them happens to be the leader of the free world.

In their smooch-ridden way, the Obamas provide a vision of love that people can - and want to - believe in. Something that makes the politics seem all warm and fuzzy (who cares about the fiscal cliff when they are DANCING?). And where, as long as the adorable snaps keep coming, it is almost impossible to disappoint.

No wonder we all want to stay with the Obamas staying together.

Judith Ireland is a Canberra Times journalist.

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