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Monday, December 5, 2016

If my husband were president, I think I’d have to be exiled to the Kingdom of Bhutan for the duration of his tenure, because there is no way would I have the self-discipline of Michelle Obama.

It took the First Lady five years to verbally take down a heckler. I’d be in a wrestling match by month two of the primaries. I can just feel it.

On Tuesday, Mrs. Obama was 12 minutes into her speech at a Democratic fundraiser when Ellen Sturtz yelled for the president to “issue an executive order barring federal contractors from discriminating against employees based on sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Great cause. Lousy timing.

For one thing, the president wasn’t giving the speech. He wasn’t even in the room. As the wife of a U.S. senator, I am familiar with this brand of lobbying. Some constituents will always see me as a convenient shortcut to the target of their ire. Multiply that number by the population of 50 states and the U.S. territories, and you have an idea of what it’s like to be Michelle Obama with the unpaid job of First Lady.

When Sturtz yelled, Mrs. Obama stepped away from the lectern, walked toward her and shut her down.

“Wait, wait, wait. One of things I don’t do, that I don’t do well, is this,” she said, to uproarious approval from those in attendance. (An audio of the moment: http://tinyurl.com/mczexwu).

“Listen to me or you can take the mic, but I’m leaving. You all decide. You have one choice.”

Mrs. Obama knew her audience. The donors had paid as much as $10,000 to be there, and they had no patience for Sturtz’s plea for “federal equality before I die,” which is what she yelled as some of the attendees escorted her out.

There’s a sadness to this. Most of the 200 or so donors there likely support Sturtz’s cause, as they should. Congress continues to stall the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and LGBT groups are disappointed that the president hasn’t issued an executive order to fix it. This matters.

But there’s a time and a place, as mothers everywhere say to their children. I wish Mrs. Obama had acknowledged the importance of employment equality for the LGBT community, but I also understand how a person’s screaming at you in front of 200 people can kill the mood.