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Political commentary from Andrew Malcolm

Category: Fashion

Wax figure of Michelle Obama debuts, but can it compete with the Lego version?

Michelle in wax

It’s one of the downsides—or upsides, depending on your point of view--of being a public figure. Sometimes you literally become a public figure.

Today Madame Tussauds in New York unveiled a wax figure of First Lady Michelle Obama. The faux Michelle captures the excitement and glamour of last year’s inauguration, wearing a one-shouldered white gown inspired by the one she wore to the inaugural balls. (It certainly thrilled TV personality Wendy Williams, above.) The wax first lady joined a wax president clad in a tuxedo.

A look at Tussauds’ website reveals that the attraction, which can be engaging or creepy — again, depending on the point of view — dates to the 1770s in Paris. The site notes:

At a time when news was communicated largely by word of mouth, Madame Tussauds’ exhibition was a kind of traveling newspaper, providing insight into global events and bringing the ordinary public face-to-face with the people in the headlines.

Consider it a primitive form of Twitter.

The First Family have been portrayed in a variety of media. A Ticket favorite: Lego. Really. Go to the jump for a look at how Lego designers captured, with amazing accuracy, inauguration day last year.

First Couple in Wax

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Guess who's coming to the Obamas' first state dinner?

Jennifer Hudson

The East Room only seats 140 guests.

So President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama are hosting their first State Dinner on the White House lawn, under a tent, a move borrowed by the Clinton White House that allows the guest list to expand to 320.

Even so, tickets for the State Dinner honoring Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh are as hard to find as bipartisan consensus. The menu should be interesting too, since Singh is a vegetarian.

Jennifer Hudson, Academy Award-winning diva songstress, is set to headline the entertainment. Hudson's life was touched by tragedy a year ago when her mother, brother and nephew were found slain in Chicago. Since then, she has returned to the spotlight slowly. This week, she was tapped to play Winnie Mandela in an upcoming biopic.

As for the invitation list, the White House plans to release details later, but one website is predicting that "Hollywood, Bollywood, stuffed shirts, fancy pants and political top dogs will converge" on the White House lawn. And Politico is leaking names as soon as they have them, including Hollywood director M. Night Shyamalan and Sanja Gupta, the CNN medical reporter first tapped by Obama to be his surgeon general.

-- Johanna Neuman

Photo: Associated Press

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Sarah Palin lets slip a little secret about hubby Todd

Sarah and Todd Palin outside their home outside Anchorage

Well, thanks a lot, Rush Limbaugh.

A whole half-hour on national radio with Sarah Palin on the air, millions of people listening in their cars and kitchens, and not one word about Lucky Johnston or whatever-his-name is. Nothing about the great RNC Clothes Caper. Nothing about whether the mother of five gave birth control instructions to her daughter.

So what was the point? And he calls himself a journalist.

Well, no he doesn't. But anyway, as The Ticket reported here Tuesday morning, El Rushbo did pursue numerous substantive policy areas with the former Republican governor who hits the road today on her book bus in Michigan and beyond, selling "Going Rogue." The book began flying off the shelves officially yesterday but has been unofficially available at some rogue places since late last week. (See video)

Nothing better than the gloomy, grey skies of Michigan in November. But Palin just had to....

...go there. Remember, the McCain brain trust, knowing it was losing well before election day last fall, was trying to target its more limited resources where they might actually work. And the numbers told them that Michigan was not one of those places. (Hmm, what if they'd picked Michigan native son Mitt Romney as VP?)

And Palin, being who she is and so naive and so inexperienced in the business of losing....

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Michelle Obama goes for the gold in Copenhagen, wearing golden clothes

Getty4evening

It was fitting symbolism for a first lady pitching her hometown as the site of the 2016 Olympics.

As the Ticket reported earlier, First Lady Michelle Obama delivered a from-the-heart pitch for Chicago to the International Olympic Committee, talking about the influence of sports on a little girl growing up on Chicago's South Side, watching the Games with her father in "a neighborhood of working families -- families with modest homes and strong values."

You can read remarks of both President Obama and the first lady below. (UPDATE: Other bloggers have now noted that Mrs. Obama would have been 20 years old when the events occurred that she describes watching from her father's lap.)

But first, take a look at her outfits.

Above, she talks with Prince Albert of Monaco at a reception following the opening ceremony of the 121st IOC session at the Copenhagen Opera House, where competing nations took a break to enjoy a night at the ballet. Wearing a gold dress with fitted bodice and full pleated skirt, adorned at the neck with a trio of brooches, the first lady won plaudits from the Mrs. O website that chronicles her clothes: "head to toe fabulous."

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Sykes blasts Limbaugh, defends Michelle Obama's right to bare arms

First Lady Michelle Obama at the White House Correspondents Assn. dinner May 9, 2009

Comedian Wanda Sykes drew appreciative laughs for most of her jokes at last night's White House Correspondents Assn. Dinner.

But when she targeted conservative icon Rush Limbaugh, taunting him for rooting for President Obama to fail, describing him as the 20th (never identified) hijacker, there was an audible intake of breath.

See what you think.

Sykes also had some choice comments about Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who wasn't there, and FOX commentator Sean Hannity, who was. She even chided the president for baring his nipples to the cameras, saying, "I know you’re into this transparency thing, but, uh, I don’t need to see your nipples."

The WHCA Dinner will no doubt survive her jibes. This social institution started in 1920. This year, with Obama a rock star to the glitterati, 3,000 top Hollywood celebrities, political powers and media heavyweights crowded the Washington Hilton Hotel to meet the new president.

No one looked more glamorous than First Lady Michelle Obama, who attended in what mrs-o.org, the website that chronicles her fashion, called a fitted fuchsia sheath dress and bejeweled statement necklace.

Taking a cue from the first lady, many women went without sleeves.

Frankly, some who no longer can did anyway. (They know who they are.)

Others who could did. Actresses Mariska Hargitay, Natalie Portman and Eva Longoria Parker, designer Donatella Versace and the aptly-named Trudie Styler (Sting's wife) went bare-armed, and looked stunning.

Some who could chose not to. The 30-year-old Katie Holmes went with her own design -- the Holmes-Yang line -- a demure ivory outfit of matching blazer, top and maxi skirt.

Amid all the bare arms, Sykes defended the first lady for showing hers, in the process taking a....

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Pelosi-Harman, the sequel

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and California Rep. Jane Harman confer as West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd looks on

Three years ago, the political world was abuzz over the personal rivalry between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi -- a San Francisco Democrat passionately against the war in Iraq -- and her colleague, Jane Harman, the moderate from Venice who supported the war and the intelligence gathered to drive it to the starting line. (They're seen above with West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd caught between them.)

I plead guilty to being among those reporters who characterized the rivalry as something of a cat fight between two strong-willed women.

Both are powerhouses in their own right -- married to men of great wealth, dressing with great panache (a rare and welcome departure for Washington), fierce advocates for their causes, able to negotiate the sharp-elbowed, political-infighting world of Washington.

So when Pelosi denied Harman the chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee  -- a post the congresswoman felt had been promised her if she returned to Congress and reclaimed her district for a Democrat -- it was a natural to wonder if personal animosity had played a role.

It turns out that Pelosi may have denied Harman the chairmanship for other reasons.

This week, as The Ticket reported, CQ reported that Harman was wiretapped and investigated for lobbying for two pro-Israeli lobbyists with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Former Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales intervened to stop the investigation, the report added, because he was hoping for Harman's support for George W. Bush's warrantless wiretap program. (Just to complicate an already-convoluted story, the Washington Post reported this week that federal prosecutors are considering dropping the chargesagainst Stephen Rosen and Keith Weissman, the pair accused of espionage.)

In any event, Harman denied that she had tried to influence the Justice Department to lighten up on the two lobbyists in hopes friends in Israel would lobby Pelosi to make her chairman. "These claims are an outrageous and recycled canard, and have no basis in fact," she said in a statement. "I never engaged in any such activity. Those who are peddling these false accusations should be ashamed of themselves."

But later she told NPR, "I have to say I am outraged that I may have been wiretapped by my government."  This statement was ironic to her critics, who noted archly that she supported the very FISA law that allowed the intelligence services to spy on American citizens in the first place.

In any event, Pelosi disclosed this week that she was informed of the investigation but kept the information to herself. "It wasn't my position to raise it with Jane Harman, no,” she said. "In fact, I didn't even know what they were talking about. All they said was that she was wiretapped."

Pelosi also denied that the investigation influenced her decision to tap Texas Democrat Sylvester Reyes as chairman of the Intel Committee.

But as The Hill's John Feehery said this morning, "Ouch."

 -- Johanna Neuman

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Photo: Nancy Pelosi, Robert Byrd, Jane Harman. Credit: Associated Press

Michelle Obama, Carla Bruni Sarkozy: the fashionistas meet in France

French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife Carla Bruni greet President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama in Strasbourg April 3, 2009

President Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy were kind of wallpaper to their wives' outfits, mere witnesses to a moment of fashion history between two high-profile women who represent modernity with very different styles.

First Lady Michelle Obama is known for mixing up everyday clothes from J. Crew with designer wear. And even at that, her high-end selections often highlight new emerging American designers such as Jason Wu. Today, she wore a dramatic magenta-and-black dress with matching coat and kitten heels.

Carla Bruni Sarkozy, the former fashion model and singer who married Nicolas Sarkozy last year, is known for glamour and for wearing haute couture. A former girlfriend of Mick Jagger and Eric Clapton (maybe that's why POTUS was taking a good look?), Carla Sarkozy today opted for gray silk with a dramatic bow at the neck, with flats.

We will leave it to the fashion police to dissect the encounter. Suffice it to say, as the Daily Beast's Editor Tina Brown breathlessly put it, their meeting was "the most delicious, sartorial fashion moment that we are all going to be deconstructing for next two or three weeks."

So what do you think?

First Lady Michelle Obama and French First Lady Carla Bruni Sarkozy greet counterparts at meeting in France

President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama pose with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife Carla Bruni April 3, 2009

-- Johanna Neuman

Top photo: Michelle Obama, Carla Bruni Sarkozy and their husbands meet. Credit: Jason Reed / Reuters

Middle photo: The two first ladies meet other spouses before an official dinner. Credit: Philippe Wojazer / Reuters

Bottom photo: The first couples take it all in. Credit: Eric Feferberg / AFP/Getty Images

Obamas do tea with the queen, get those little cucumber sandwiches. Early photo.

President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama at Buckingham Palace for tea with Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Philip

For the record, First Lady Michelle Obama wore a double strand of pearls for her first meeting with Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace. Also a satiny black coat over a black skirt and white top. No word yet on whether it was sleeveless.

While we wait for details from the fashion press about the first fashionista's attire, we can report that, while President Obama has been wowing world leaders, his wife has been wowing the chroniclers of style.

This morning she visited Maggie's Cancer Care Center wearing a J. Crew bejeweled cardigan and a mint green jacquard pencil skirt. Within hours, as our colleague Booth Moore reported at All the Rage, the cardigan had sold out.

The queen and Prince Philip were obviously eager to meet the Obamas. The 82-year-old monarch, who has met 11 previous American presidents, extended the invitation to the 47-year-old president when protocol did not require it. As for the Obamas, they seemed equally tickled to be meeting with royalty.

"There's a last thing I should mention about Great Britain, and that's the queen, so I am very much looking forward to meeting her for the first time," Barack Obama said. "As you might imagine, Michelle has been really thinking about it too. I think in the imagination of people throughout America, what the queen stands for, her decency and her civility and what she represents, is very important."

— Johanna Neuman

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Photo Credit: John Stillwell/Associated Press

Barack Obama in London: riots in the streets, sweet talk in halls of power

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown welcomes President Obama to London at the start of the G20 meetings April 1, 2009

They were rioting in the streets, breaking the windows at the Royal Bank of Scotland, carrying signs that said "Capitalism isn't working."

But while anarchists and other protesters on the streets of London's financial district were jeering at the G-20 agenda to rescue the world's ailing financial system, inside the halls of power, President Obama was his usual cool customer, hitting all the right notes with Europeans who had cringed at the cowboy leadership style of his predecessor.

"I'm here to listen, not to lecture," Obama said at a news conference with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, urging other major economic powers to take concerted action to right the global economy, saying they should not "miss the opportunity to lead."

You could practically hear the Europeans swoon. Former chancellor of the exchequer (roughly akin to the U.S. Treasury secretary), Brown is blamed by many in the country for lapse regulation of banks in the run-up to the global financial meltdown. But Obama is perhaps the most popular leader on the world stage, so Brown welcomed him to his official residence with enough praise to make a person forget what 10 Downing St. considered Obama's lukewarm reception in Washington. But see for yourself -- full transcript below.

Meanwhile the president, on his first foray abroad, also scored points on the diplomatic front. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, whose name Hillary Rodham Clinton muffed during one of those presidential debates last year — agreed after meeting with Obama to reopen talks about nuclear warheads. And Chinese President Hu Jintao — some have called him America's chief banker because of all the U.S. debt China holds — agreed to intensify cooperation on economic issues.

And, both offered Obama invitations to visit. Moscow and Beijing here he comes.

— Johanna Neuman

Photo Credit: Anthony Devlin / AFP/Getty 

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Michelle Obama in Europe -- could she upstage her husband?

Michelle Obama addressing the Democratic National Convention in Denver in 2008

President Obama sets off Tuesday on an eight-day, five-country trip to Europe, his first overseas journey as president, to tackle issues like the global economic meltdown and the increasing threat from terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

With his popularity higher than most of the G-20 leaders he'll be meeting with, the president's biggest challenge will be convincing reluctant counterparts to invest more in their infrastructures. As Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel put it the other day, "I will not let anyone tell me to spend more money."

Obama's also facing a snarky press corps in London, site of the G-20 meetings. Already, British reporters are carping about the size of Obama's entourage -- according to the Guardian, 500 officials, 200 Secret Service agents, a six-member medical team and a big presidential limo.

                                       

But Obama's biggest challenge could come from much closer to home.

First Lady Michelle Obama has apparently captivated the European press, which is threatening to track her every move. As Politico reported, one paper tracked down her high-school prom date, and another asked plaintively, “Why Doesn’t the UK Have a Michelle Obama?”

Meeting with the queen, the first lady will be judged on her curtsy (will she or won't she?), her clothes and her ambiance. First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy was such a star in France in 1961 that President Kennedy took to describing himself as the man who accompanied Jackie Kennedy to Europe. Will Obama use the same line?

Somehow, we think Obama, the first African American president in history and a man who wowed Europe on a visit during the presidential campaign, will get plenty of attention on his own.

But given Michelle Obama's interest in fashion -- and her working-class roots that seem to fascinate European intellectuals -- she could emerge as the star of the show.

Her every ensemble will be front page news and endlessly interpreted and decoded,” said Patricia McDonald, a London-based editor for the Michelle Obama fashion blog, www.Mrs-O.org. “Will she break out a new wardrobe, or in deference to the economy, recycle her greatest hits?”

-- Johanna Neuman

Photo: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

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About the Columnist
A veteran foreign and national correspondent, Andrew Malcolm has served on the L.A. Times Editorial Board and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004. He is the author of 10 nonfiction books and father of four. Read more.
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