One of the real benefits we will get when we elect Barack Obama next week is that we will get the energy, experience and enthusiasm of his wife Michelle. I have watched her give speeches and grant interviews over the past year. I have also collected some of the best print articles and interviews for your information and inspiration. Michelle clearly embodies the modern American woman better than any of the other women in the news (i.e., Cindy McCain and Sarah Palin.)
Read about how she is able to keep their children at the center of her world, while helping here husband stay focused and strong!! As a sociology professor I am particularly impressed with the original sociological research she conducted to receive her undergraduate degree from Princeton. You will learn about her family ties and young influences. We are so lucky to have her by Barack’s side. Learn how they met, fell in love and got married!!
The Ivy League Grad’s Powerful Spirit Brings Strength to Barack Obama’s Presidential Campaign
Growing up on the South Side of Chicago, Michelle Obama learned the value of a strong work ethic from her father, Fraser Robinson. The Robinsons lived in a townhouse, in a small one-bedroom apartment on the top floor. “You really didn’t know how poor you were,” Robinson said.
Brother and sister slept in the living room with a makeshift wall dividing them. The two were close and even looked alike, often mistaken for twins. Her brother made sure to look out for his younger sister, especially when it came to the men she dated. By the late 1980s, Michelle Robinson was holding out for a guy as good as her dad.
“My sister never had too many long-term boyfriends,” Robinson said. Michelle met Barack Obama when she was a 25-year-old lawyer at a corporate law firm, fresh out of Harvard Law School. Barack, then 28 years old, was a summer associate finishing law school. She was assigned to be his adviser.
“Because I went to Harvard and he went to Harvard, and the firm thought, ‘Oh, we’ll hook these two people up,’” Michelle Obama said. “So, you know, there was a little intrigue, but I must say after about a month, Barack, about a month in, asked me out, and I thought no way. This is completely tacky.”
He persisted, and she finally relented, agreeing to a first date at a museum, followed by a movie and ice cream. She eventually brought him home to meet her family. They liked him, but her brother wasn’t hopeful. “We all thought, it’s too bad. That guy’s going to be out in a minute,” Robinson said.
Craig, who is two years older than Michelle, acted as a kind of undercover agent during Barack’s visit, subjecting him to a secret character test during a game of basketball. “You can really tell selfishness on the basketball court,” Robinson said. “You know, he wasn’t selfish.” Barack Obama had won big marks, but Michelle wasn’t swayed one way or the other.
“Ultimately, I do what I think is best,” she said. “Now it sort of made me look at him a little more closely. Because if he were just a jerk, which is something that you can see in how somebody behaves on a team, that would give me some pause. But, you know, if you were just not a good player, I probably would’ve still married him.”
Barack Obama had several girlfriends throughout his college years. His best pickup strategy? Being the smartest guy at the coffee shop. But he has never looked back. He says he can’t imagine being married to anyone other than Michelle. In his campaign speeches he has advised young men to “marry a woman who’s superior to you,” a feat Barack Obama says he met.
“I mean, she’s so … part of me. I look at our daughters. I think everybody feels this at a certain point. I can’t imagine having daughters that look any different from Malia and Sasha. And they are perfect,” he said with a laugh. “So, obviously it was destiny.” He and Michelle had been dating for two years and had talked about marriage but hadn’t made any decisions. Then, one day, Barack Obama proposed.
“We were at a restaurant having dinner to celebrate the fact that he had finished the bar,” Michelle, 44, remembered. “And that was supposedly the reason. And then the waiter came over with the dessert and a tray. And there was the ring. And I was completely shocked.” Barack Obama didn’t wax eloquent during the proposal, instead he simply asked, “Will you marry me?” Michelle replied with enthusiasm: “Yes!” And the rest, as they say, is history.
Michelle has accepted the role of aspiring First Lady and the sometimes uncomfortable scrutiny that comes with it. On the campaign trail, she is sometimes slated as the opening act, introducing Barack to the audience. Direct and plain-spoken, with an edgy sense of humor uncommon in a political spouse, she complements her husband’s more grandiose style. She can be tough, and even a little steely, an attitude that stems, at least in part, from wanting to live up to the high expectations her father set for her.
She wants to change the world, but she also wants to win this thing now that they’re so deeply invested. If his loftiness can set him apart from the crowd, her bluntness draws them in. Standing up before large audiences wasn’t easy at first. “I’ve never participated at this level in any of his campaigns,” she told NEWSWEEK last week. “I have usually chosen to just appear when necessary.”
From the beginning of the campaign, Michelle made it clear to her husband that she would give the effort her all (“We need to be in there now, while we’re still fresh and open and fearless and bold,” she told Vanity Fair last December), but not at the expense of family life. At two meetings with the candidate and his political aides shortly before he announced his intention to run, she grilled them about particulars, practical concerns that had nothing to do with his sweeping themes of “hope” and “change.” What demands would the campaign place on their lives? Where would the money come from? Could they really take on the Clinton machine and win, or was this just an extended ego trip? “She didn’t want Barack to launch some kind of empty effort here,” says senior strategist David Axelrod.
Michelle also raised concerns about her husband’s safety. It was one of the first questions her own family had asked her when she first aired the possibility of running. He would soon be assigned Secret Service protection very early in the campaign, in response to the huge crowds he was drawing and threatening e-mails. Michelle, who now has a security team of her own, does not like to discuss the possibility of Barack’s getting hurt. “We are grateful the Secret Service is a part of it,” she told NEWSWEEK last summer. “I’m probably more grateful than Barack, who loves to live a very normal life. This is the first sign that our lives aren’t normal.”
At the meetings, Axelrod and the other aides addressed each of Michelle’s questions. “Suffusing these discussions was, if we did it, she and he both wanted to make sure it was consistent with who he is and what he thinks, and wouldn’t distort that,” says Axelrod. She has expressed fears that the nastiness of presidential politics could wind up sucking the idealism out of her husband, leaving him just another soulless, cynical Washington pol. “Michelle has always been in the camp of, ‘Let’s not forget what we’re fighting for’,” Axelrod says. After the meetings, Michelle gave Barack her blessing. …
Part of Michelle Obama’s appeal is that she comes across as so normal despite the withering glare of a national campaign. As a political spouse, she is somewhat unusual. She isn’t the traditional Stepford booster, smiling vacantly at her husband and sticking to a script of carefully vetted blandishments. Nor is she a surrogate campaign manager, ordering the staff around and micromanaging the candidate’s every move. She travels the country giving speeches and attending events (her mother watches the kids when she’s on the road), but resists staying away for more than one night at a stretch. When the couple catch up several times a day on the phone, the talk is more likely to be about their daughters than the latest poll projections. Michelle has made it her job to ensure that Barack, who now lives full time inside the surreal campaign bubble of adoring crowds and constant attention, doesn’t himself lose sight of what’s normal.
Onstage, Obama has introduced Michelle as “my rock”—the person who keeps him focused and grounded. In her words, she is just making sure he is “keeping it real.” She does this in part by tethering him to the more mundane responsibilities of a husband and father. She insists that Barack fly home from wherever he is to attend ballet recitals and parent-teacher conferences. When the couple host political gatherings at their home in Chicago’s Hyde Park, Michelle asks everyone to bring along their children. To help bridge the physical distance between father and daughters, Michelle recently bought two MacBook laptops, one for Barack and one for the kids, so they could have video chats over the Internet. …
Those who know her invariably describe Michelle as poised, relaxed and confident. “There is no difference between the public Michelle and the private Michelle,” says University of Chicago law professor David Strauss, who sits with her on the board of the University of Chicago’s Lab School. (The Obamas’ daughters attend the school.) “There’s no pretense.” Yet that confidence did not come naturally. Now 44, Michelle has had to overcome persistent self-doubts and insecurity—about her abilities, about race and class, and about what kind of life she was supposed to lead. …
In 1989, she was assigned to mentor a young, unconventional summer associate by the name of Barack Obama. Michelle was unimpressed by the office gossip about the hotshot Harvard Law student, a biracial intern from Hawaii whom she dismissed as “a black guy who can talk straight.” But she was disarmed by his confidence. He walked up to her one day and said, “I think we should go out on a date.” She resisted, thinking it was inappropriate. She dropped her guard after he asked her to go to one of his community-organizing sessions in a church basement, where he delivered a stemwinding speech about closing the gap between what he called “the world as it is, and the world as it should be.”
She was smitten. “I was, like, ‘This guy is different’,” she says. ” ‘He is really different, in addition to being nice and funny and cute and all that. He’s got a seriousness and a commitment that you don’t see every day’.” She recalls thinking, ” ‘Well, you know, I’d like to be married to somebody who felt that deeply about things’.” At this, she paused for a second. “Maybe I didn’t say ‘marry.’ Scratch that part. It took him a little while.” Each of them offered the other something they had lacked growing up—for her, a free-thinking outlook, for him, a sense of stability.
Michelle introduced him to her family. They liked him, but didn’t expect him to last long. Michelle was a demanding girlfriend, always breaking up with one suitor or another, and it was something of a family joke that sooner or later she would toss him overboard, too. “The first thing I was worried about was, is this poor guy going to make the cut?” says her brother, Craig. “How long is it going to be until he gets fired?” Her mother remembers Obama as quiet and respectful. “He didn’t talk about himself,” she says. “He didn’t tell us that he was running for president of the Harvard Law Review. We never realized that he was as bright as he is.” …
Looking back, she says she realized she had unthinkingly climbed onto an “automatic path” of a corporate career. “I started thinking about the fact that I went to some of the best schools in the country and I have no idea what I want to do,” she says. “That kind of stuff got me worked up because I thought, ‘This isn’t education. You can make money and have a nice degree. But what are you learning about giving back to the world, and finding your passion and letting that guide you, as opposed to the school you got into’?” She resolved to leave the law firm and mentor young people from the neighborhood she grew up in. But she was daunted by how little money she would make, and feared she would not be able to pay back her sizable student loans. Obama convinced her that if they married and combined their incomes, they could afford a more frugal life.
Michelle began writing job letters to various charities and city agencies. One landed on the desk of Valerie Jarrett, deputy chief of staff to Chicago Mayor Richard Daley. “I interviewed Michelle, and an introductory session turned into an hour and a half,” Jarrett tells NEWSWEEK. “I offered her a job at the end of the interview—which was totally inappropriate since it was the mayor’s decision. She was so confident and committed and extremely open.” Michelle was flattered by the quick offer. But though she came across as supremely confident to Jarrett, she had doubts about whether it was the right decision. She asked Barack to meet with Jarrett to discuss the job before she accepted.
What would she do as First Lady? It’s a question she gets all the time now. Yet it’s not one she ventures to answer in any detail. She is interested in issues women face balancing work and home, and in lowering barriers that keep poor students from college. “There are a ton of things. It’s endless what you can do in the White House,” she says. “But until I get there and know what kind of resources I’ll have and how much time and what’s the agenda of the country, I think, truthfully, I don’t know which of these many things I can focus on.”
If they win, Michelle says, there won’t be any to-do list for the East Wing until she gets her daughters settled in Washington. (She never moved to the capital when Obama became a senator.) “What will the girls need?” she asks. “Are they going to transition easily to the White House and this public life and a new school and a new city? If they’re losing their minds, that’s one project off Mommy’s table, because I’m going to be making sure that they have their feet on the ground.” …
What about racism? Did you and your husband expect it on the campaign trail?
It’s not just race, but his youth, his level of experience, his name, his background, everything—there’s just so much that is unconventional. The question is, Is that too much for people? But our strategy is to be as honest and open as possible. Basically folks are the same. They want to feel like they can trust you. They want to feel like you’ll listen. All [the other] stuff breaks down when people get to know each other. …
What would be your White House role?
I think I can bring visibility and a voice to a whole range of issues, like work-family balance. We talk a lot about the struggle that women have just to survive in a climate where wages are decreasing, where you have to hold two or three jobs to cover the basics. All of these things lead to greater stresses on families in ways that we need to talk about.
Some fear for your husband’s safety. How do you manage your concern for him and for your family?
Barack has Secret Service protection, and that in and of itself provides a level of security that didn’t exist in our everyday lives. So, I think that the question of security has been a bit overblown. We didn’t make the decision to enter this worrying about safety. When you look at people who came before us, people like Martin Luther King Jr., there was a real reason to be afraid. We’re living in different times. As far as I’m concerned, whatever we are sacrificing is nothing compared to what others have sacrificed.
What inspired you and your brother? And if you hadn’t chosen law, what might you have done?
We had very hardworking parents. They didn’t go to college, but they believed in the importance of education; they were staunch supporters of us, so we always had two parents telling us how wonderful we were. In terms of other careers, I think I gave up the notion of being a pediatrician after I realized that organic chemistry was going to be [required.] [But] I don’t think I have put my heart and soul into the notion of being a lawyer.
Michelle Obama’s senior year thesis at Princeton University shows a document written by a young woman grappling with a society in which a black Princeton alumnus might only be allowed to remain “on the periphery.”
“My experiences at Princeton have made me far more aware of my ‘blackness’ than ever before,” the future Mrs. Obama wrote in her thesis introduction. “I have found that at Princeton, no matter how liberal and open-minded some of my white professors and classmates try to be toward me, I sometimes feel like a visitor on campus; as if I really don’t belong. Regardless of the circumstances under which I interact with whites at Princeton, it often seems as if, to them, I will always be black first and a student second.”
The thesis, titled “Princeton-Educated Blacks and the Black Community” and written under her maiden name, Michelle LaVaughn Robinson, in 1985. Obama writes that the path she chose by attending Princeton would likely lead to her “further integration and/or assimilation into a white cultural and social structure that will only allow me to remain on the periphery of society; never becoming a full participant.”
The thesis offers several fascinating insights into the mind of Michelle Obama, who has been a passionate advocate of her husband’s presidential aspirations. The 1985 thesis provides a trove of Michelle Obama’s thoughts as a young woman, with many of the paper’s statements describing the student’s world as seen through a race-based prism.
“In defining the concept of identification or the ability to identify with the black community,” the Princeton student wrote, “I based my definition on the premise that there is a distinctive black culture very different from white culture.” Other thesis statements specifically pointed to what was seen by the future Mrs. Obama as racially insensitive practices in a university system populated with mostly Caucasian educators and students: “Predominately white universities like Princeton are socially and academically designed to cater to the needs of the white students comprising the bulk of their enrollments.”
To illustrate the latter statement, she pointed out that Princeton (at the time) had only five black tenured professors on its faculty, and its “Afro-American studies” program “is one of the smallest and most understaffed departments in the university.” In addition, she said only one major university-recognized group on campus was “designed specifically for the intellectual and social interests of blacks and other third world students.” (Her findings also stressed that Princeton was “infamous for being racially the most conservative of the Ivy League universities.”)
Perhaps one of the most germane subjects approached in the thesis is a section in which she conveyed views about political relations between black and white communities. She quotes the work of sociologists James Conyers and Walter Wallace, who discussed “integration of black official(s) into various aspects of politics” and notes “problems which face these black officials who must persuade the white community that they are above issues of race and that they are representing all people and not just black people,” as opposed to creating “two separate social structures.”
To research her thesis, the future Mrs. Obama sent an 18-question survey to a sampling of 400 black Princeton graduates, requesting the respondents define the amount of time and “comfort” level spent interacting with blacks and whites before they attended the school, as well as during and after their University years. Other questions dealt with their individual religious beliefs, living arrangements, careers, role models, economic status, and thoughts about lower class blacks. In addition, those surveyed were asked to choose whether they were more in line with a “separationist and/or pluralist” viewpoint or an “integrationist and/or assimilationist” ideology.
Obama works out like “a gladiator,” a friend has said. When people—they’re almost always shorter—ask her to pose for pictures, instead of bending her knees she leans at the waist, like the Tin Man. Her winningly chipmunk-cheeked smile is doled out sparingly, a privilege to be earned, rather than an icebreaker or an entreaty. Obama, who graduated from Princeton, earned a law degree from Harvard, and became, first, a corporate lawyer and, more recently, the vice-president for community and external affairs at the University of Chicago Hospitals, spent all but the first year of her childhood in a four-room bungalow on Chicago’s South Side. Having traversed vast landscapes of race and class, often as a solo traveller, she evinces the discipline and, occasionally, the detachment of an Army brat. She can seem aloof from politics. Her mother and her older brother both say that she has never once phoned them in tears.
Obama is cool in temperament. When Stevie Wonder, whom she was escorting to the stage at a rally in February, tripped on a riser, sending her tumbling down next to him in front of thousands of people, she exhibited no embarrassment or alarm, turning what could have been a blooper-reel nightmare into a non-event. She is unquestionably accomplished, but she is not a repressed intellectual, in the mode of Teresa Heinz Kerry. More than anything, she seems to enjoy talking about her husband and her daughters (Malia, nine, and Sasha, six). She can give the impression, in the midst of the campaign’s endless roundtables and kaffeeklatsches, that she’d rather be talking to them. Obama seems like an iconoclast precisely because she’s normal (the norm for a candidate’s wife having been defined, in the past, as nonworking, white, and pious about the democratic process).
Obama is also cool in the other sense of the word; her tastes, references, and vocabulary—“freaky,” “24/7,” “got my back,” “American Idol,” Judge Mathis—if not exactly edgy, are recognizable, which, for a political spouse, makes them seem radical. Of the Iowa State Fair’s corn dogs and candied apples, obligingly gushed over by hopeful First Ladies every four years: “Stuff on a stick.” Here’s Obama, talking to me in her motorcade halfway between Sheboygan, Wisconsin, and Green Bay about Obama Girl, the young woman who professed her crush on Obama’s husband all over the Internet: “That was a little weird, because, you know . . . I just assumed, you know, there’s no way anybody’s gonna hear about that. And one day Sasha comes home and she’s, like, ‘Daddy has a girlfriend. It’s you, Mommy.’ And it’s, like, ‘Oh, shhhhhhhhh—yeah.’ ” Curse word averted, barely. …
If Michelle Obama’s husband succeeds in garnering the Democratic nomination and then in winning the general election in November, she will be not only the first black First Lady of the United States but also one of the youngest since Jackie Kennedy. Yet, for a potential revolutionary, Michelle Obama is deeply conventional. She exudes a nostalgia, invoking the innocence and order of the past, as much as her husband beckons to a liberating future. Listening to her speeches, with their longing for a lost, spit-shine world, one could sometimes mistake her, were it not for the emphasis on social justice, for a law-and-order Republican. “It’s not just about politics; it’s TV,” she says, of our collective decay. And, wistfully: “The life I had growing up seems so much more simple.” She is a successful working mother, but an ambivalent one: “My mother stayed at home. She didn’t have to work.” Her music of choice is Stevie Wonder, and has been since her childhood. (At the Obamas’ wedding, a friend sang “You and I.”) One of her favorite foods is macaroni and cheese. In “The Audacity of Hope,” acknowledging the appeal of the Reagan Administration, Barack writes, “It was related to the pleasure that I still get from watching a well-played baseball game, or my wife gets from watching reruns of ‘The Dick Van Dyke Show.’ ” …
Parenthood, far more than politics, has been the catalytic force in Michelle’s adult life. She is passionate about being a mother, and about confronting the problems that working women face in making time for both their families and their professions. When I asked if there was an issue she has worked particularly hard to bring to her husband’s attention, she replied, “The attention that he’s focused on work-family balance. . . . That is our life. To the extent that we have challenges, and struggles, headaches that everybody else is going through . . . those are our conversations.” (Barack has candidly chronicled their struggle “to balance work and family in a way that’s equitable to Michelle and good for our children,” and its toll on their marriage.) Her frame of reference can seem narrow. When she talks about wanting “my girls to travel the world with pride” and the decline of America “over my lifetime,” you wonder why her default pronoun is singular if the message is meant to be concern for others and inclusiveness. …
The Obamas are fixtures of Chicago’s philanthro-social scene: there they are, waving from a silver Mustang at the annual Bud Billiken Parade and Picnic; there’s Michelle delivering remarks at the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority’s Seventy-second Central Regional Conference; there she is arriving at the Black Creativity Gala with a shopping bag full of “Obama for Senator” buttons. Cindy Moelis recalls being shocked, after agreeing to host Obama’s baby shower, that the guest list included fifty people. “Hmmm,” Michael Sneed, the Sun-Times columnist, reported in 2006. “Sneed hears rumbles a mink coat reportedly belonging to Michelle Obama, wife of Sen. Barack Obama, may have gone missing following the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s birthday bash at the South Shore Cultural Center.” …
Michelle’s roots in the community predate her involvement with Barack; in fact, he has written that it was one of the things that attracted him to her, awakening, after years of peripatetic soul-searching, “a longing for stability and a sense of place that I had not realized was there.” Barbara Pace-Moody, the development director of Muntu, an African-dance company on whose board Obama serves, recalls meeting her, in the early nineties, when they were both volunteers for a mentoring program: “We spent every Saturday with young women from the Chicago Housing Authority. We had a big gala, and she and her sister-in-law took their own money and paid for the girls to get their hair done and set them up in a hotel downtown. I remember thinking, Who is this Michelle Robinson?” …
Michelle’s perceived authenticity has been an asset to Barack. Ron Carter, a former associate of the Black Panther Party who is the publisher of the South Street Journal, told me that he was impressed by her handling of a combustible situation that arose during Barack’s senatorial campaign, following a speech that he gave at Liberty Baptist Church, on Chicago’s South Side. “There were lots of radicals protesting, calling into question his loyalty to the community,” Carter recalled. “She came out the back door, and there were a bunch of hoodlum thugs ready to do a full-blast demonstration. She put on her street sense and asked all the guys, ‘Y’all got a problem or something?’ They all froze, guys who would slap the mayor, who would slap Jesse Jackson in the face, even.” …
One on one, Obama is gracious. A week before the Wisconsin primary, she made an appearance at the Hops Haven Brew Haus, in Sheboygan. When it was over, I joined her in the back seat of a Ford Explorer for part of the ride to Green Bay. Space was tight, and I couldn’t find anywhere to put my sludgy boots except practically on top of her black leather pocketbook. (If a woman’s handbag is a window onto her soul, Obama really is normal: hers had an empty M&M’s wrapper and an iPod sticking out of an unzipped compartment.) “You know what, let me move it because I can put it out of your way,” she said. Someone was trying to put something in the trunk, which was locked. “Oh, they’re trying to get in the back,” she said, and moved to help, like a mother packing her charges into the station wagon. ..
Others in the Obama camp were less circumspect. “I’m telling you, she’s not faking the funk, that’s for sure. Neither is he,” Craig Robinson said, over lunch in Providence. “And that’s why it’s working. That’s why people are connecting. ’Cause you can’t B.S. that good. Even if you’re Bill Clinton you can’t, because he’s getting called on it.” … Back in the Explorer, I asked Obama if she thought that her husband, as the Democratic nominee, could take John McCain. “Oh, yeah. We got him,” she replied.
You know, you have to start with hope. You know, you don’t get anywhere in this country without hope. So it’s a necessity. What Barack says is that people have to understand hope isn’t just blind optimism. It isn’t passive. It isn’t just sitting there waiting for things to get better.
Hope is the vision that you have to have. It’s the inspiration that moves people into action. Right? There are more people engaged in this political process in this year than we’ve seen in my lifetime. And it is all because of hope because people believe in the possibility of something unseen.
They have to believe that things can change. It starts there, right? The next step is the work. It’s the challenge of then now saying, “Are you ready to roll up your sleeves and set aside your fear and your cynicism and make some sacrifices to move this thing forward?”
Community organizing. Now, when was the last time we’ve had a president of the United States who spent years working on the streets in a major city, for years working with people who never had a voice and advocating for better streets, cleaner streets, safer communities? Somebody who has worked as a constitutional law scholar, [as a] civil rights attorney, for years.
Barack could have been a partner at a major law firm. He could have worked on Wall Street. He probably could have been the CEO of a company. But he made choices to work on issues of justice, things like housing discrimination and employment discrimination. Barack has more legislative experience than Hillary Clinton does. Barack has spent eight years, in addition to his work as a U.S. Senator, in the state legislature.
And I would think that having a President of the United States who understands how federal law impacts local government would be useful. And it’s not just anywhere. I mean, when people talk about whether Barack is tough enough to handle the Republicans I say, yeah, we’ve grown up in Chicago politics; Illinois politics. Some of the toughest politics that you’ll see anywhere in this country. …
I’ve thought about my future role a lot and I get asked it a lot. But there are a lot of things that I care about. I mean, I ran … a national service program, so I care very deeply about national service. I work for an academic medical center. So I know the challenges in healthcare.
I am a mother and a professional – and a wife. And I know the struggles of trying to balance work/life/family. And I know that it’s something that every woman that I know is struggling with, and every family in America is impacted by the challenges that we face when we try to do it all without resources and support … informal structures of support.
The only way that I manage every day is because of all these informal support structures in my life, whether it’s my mom or a set of girlfriends or the flexibility on a job because I’m a vice president and I can set my hours when I need to. I’ve managed because of that. But how on earth are single-parent mothers doing it, nurses and teachers and folks who are on shifts? …
And the truth of the matter is that we are only as strong in this society … as the health of our families and the people who head them. But we haven’t talked enough about that in just real practical ways. I mean, up until this point, as a woman, I’ve been told, “You can have it all, and you should be able to manage it all.” And I’ve been losing my mind trying to live up to that. And it’s impossible. It’s impossible. We’re putting women and families in a no-win situation. …
Michelle Obama, energetic and striking at 5-foot-11, appears slow to tire. Exercise is alleged to be her favorite hobby. She has been conducting outdoor jump-rope clinics at her house for her daughter’s ballet class. Her workload is about 20 percent of what it was; she is letting go gradually. She still checks her BlackBerry for messages from the office and shows up for meetings, to the astonishment of her colleagues. …
Her friends and associates describe her as a mother, wife and daughter first (her mother still lives nearby), but they quickly bring up her community activism. She quit the law firm to work for Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley (D) in 1991 and has worked in public service jobs since. She gave birth to their older daughter, Malia, in 1998. In the intervening years she moved into positions of ever-greater authority, and she was earning almost $275,000 a year before scaling back her duties this year.
Work became increasingly important, but not for her own identity, according to her friend Jarrett. “I think part of why work has been so important to her, and why she considers herself a professional, is that she cares passionately about what she does,” Jarrett said. So is she a feminist? “You know, I’m not that into labels,” Michelle Obama said in the interview. “So probably, if you laid out a feminist agenda, I would probably agree with a large portion of it,” she said. “I wouldn’t identify as a feminist just like I probably wouldn’t identify as a liberal or a progressive
Q: With Barack spending almost all his time on the campaign trail, how do you juggle your responsibilities to him and the children, Malia, 9, and Sasha, 6?
A: I compartmentalize. When I’m on the road, I try to keep it to day trips or maybe an overnight. And for the most part, I’m home on the weekends. … The only way all this works is because we have my mom. When I’m not home I don’t worry, because I know my mom has everything under control. And, the girls love Grandma. ….
Q: How do you deal with worries about the safety of your husband and children?
A: I never focus on what could go wrong — if we did that, we’d never get anywhere.
Q: If you do become first lady, do you have any special causes in mind?
A: I care about a ton of things. … Community service has shaped my career. The thing I deal with on a day-to-day basis are the challenges facing working mothers, challenges that transcend race and socioeconomics and class. Women feel guilty all the time. At some level, something is always falling through the cracks, and women have no time to reflect, to find peace, to review their life or think about the big picture.
How have your girls been affected already by life in the public eye?
Well, there’s all the consideration that their search for the perfect dog has gotten from the public. We’re getting lots of mail with suggestions! The girls think this is just great — they’re excited that so many people want them to get the best dog ever. Also, one thing that has helped keep their lives normal is that we’ve kept the same friends since the girls were born. And today the girls attend the same school and play on the same teams as they did 19 months ago. Their teachers and coaches know that this is a huge change for our family, and they know the girls well enough to treat them the same today as when this all started. …
I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to talk to people who’ve done this before. I’ve had great conversations with Hillary Clinton, Tipper Gore, and Caroline Kennedy, and they’ve all given me advice on how to make sure your kids are whole and grounded. I think a part of that is keeping them, keeping their worlds, very much their own.
How do you handle massive stress? Do you ever have meltdowns?
Exercise is really important to me — it’s therapeutic. So if I’m ever feeling tense or stressed or like I’m about to have a meltdown, I’ll put on my iPod and head to the gym or out on a bike ride along Lake Michigan with the girls.
So, what’s on your iPod?
I have a pretty eclectic mix of everything, from Beyoncé to Stevie Wonder. He’s my favorite artist of all time, so I probably have every song he’s ever recorded. But if I hear something I like somewhere, I’ll add it. I just heard this CD by Anthony David, who’s an R&B guy — I put him on there. That’s brand new, so I’m kind of enjoying that a lot now. I also have some old Mariah Carey; the girls have reintroduced me to some of her older stuff. So I have a good mix: some pop, some R&B, some jazz.
Do you shop at Wal-Mart?
I’m more of a Target shopper.
How does it feel to be a media target? Do you feel picked on?
One of the lessons that I grew up with was to always stay true to yourself and never let what somebody else says distract you from your goals. And so when I hear about negative and false attacks, I really don’t invest any energy in them, because I know who I am. …
Has your style had to change as you’ve taken on the role of candidate’s wife? More pearls and Jackie O. dresses?
You know, Barack has been in politics for a long time, and my style really hasn’t changed since he started running for president. I don’t have a stylist, but for special events, I work with designer Maria Pinto here in Chicago, who’s not only a great designer but also a good friend.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
French fries and barbecue!
What have you learned from other moms in the White House?
Hillary Clinton has been a great source of inspiration … she and President Clinton did an incredible job raising their daughter, Chelsea, who has grown up to be a beautiful, intelligent, caring, successful woman. Laura Bush has also handled herself and her girls so elegantly during their years in the White House. …
You’re used to speaking your mind. Do you have to self-censor now so it doesn’t look like you’re telling your husband what to do?
It would be hard for me to edit myself and still be me. And I think that in the end, that’s what the voters deserve and it’s what they want: They want to know who I am, and it’s my responsibility to make sure they know who I am and who Barack is; then they can make a clear, informed decision based on authenticity. …
If you become first lady, are you going to go clubbing with France’s first lady, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy?
Malia and Sasha will be the first to tell you that I go to bed much too early to go clubbing!
MORE SITES WITH VIDEOS, PIX AND MORE ABOUT MICHELLE OBAMA:
Click link below to watch Diane Sawyer’s “Portrait of a President”
Click link below to watch Michelle on The Colbert Report (4-15-08)