One wonders if First Lady Michelle Obama truly thought she could pass for an "everywoman" as she shopped at a local Alexandria, Virginia Target store on Thursday clad in what we assume was meant to be an incognito outfit -- baseball cap and sunglasses -- but with a passel of Secret Service agents in tow.
Since her husband attained the highest office in the land, the First Lady has lamented missing out on what she calls "normal stuff," like shopping at her favorite retail outlets. Still, such attempts to be "normal" -- especially with the high-tax dollars incurred every time Secret Service is deployed to unsecured public locations -- is perceived by many critics to be pretentious and, perhaps even self-indulgent.
According to AP, casually dressed Secret Service agents arrived roughly a half-hour before Mrs. Obama, who later arrived with her assistant and spent 30 to 40 minutes shopping, pushing her own cart. She was allegedly recognized only by the cashier who rang up her purchases.
During the 2008 presidential campaign, Mrs. Obama dubbed herself as "more of a Target shopper," saying she preferred the store to Wal-Mart.
According to CBS, the first lady's office confirmed that the pictures did indeed show Mrs. Obama.
"It is not uncommon for the First Lady to slip out to run an errand, eat at a local restaurant or otherwise enjoy the city outside the White House gates," said Kristina Schake, communications director for the First Lady.
"Slip out and run an errand?" That might be quite an understatement considering the scene that erupted two years ago almost to the day, when the First Lady was intent on purchasing organic greens at a D.C. based farmer's market only a stone's throw away from the White House.
Wanting to do the shopping herself and not rely on the staff employed with handling such tasks, Obama drew scorn for what critics argued was a misuse of Secret Service and public resources -- all to purchase vegetables. The Washington Post explained what went into making the First Lady's shopping experience possible:
The Secret Service and the D.C. police brought in three dozen vehicles and shut down H Street, Vermont Avenue, two lanes of I Street and an entrance to the McPherson Square Metro station. They swept the area, in front of the Department of Veterans Affairs, with bomb-sniffing dogs and installed magnetometers in the middle of the street, put up barricades to keep pedestrians out, and took positions with binoculars atop trucks. Though the produce stand was only a block or so from the White House, the first lady hopped into her armored limousine and pulled into the market amid the wail of sirens.
Then, and only then, could Obama purchase her leafy greens. "Now it's time to buy some food," she told several hundred people who came to watch. "Let's shop!
While her recent appearance at Target may have been less of a spectacle, substantial resources were still spent to ensure Mrs. Obama's safety in an instance where it might not have been necessary. And while she may yearn to be an everywoman, the very title "First Lady" dictates a much different reality.