Friday, January 6, 2012

Michelle Obama and the Evolution of a First Lady

The following excerpts are from The Obamas, a new book by Jodi Kantor ofThe New York Times about the first few years of the Obama administration. The book raises the curtain so the reader can glimpse the behind the scene rivalries, drama and tension of the White House. 
The Michelle Obama of January 2012 is an expert motivator and charmer, a champion of safe causes like helping military families and ending childhood obesity, an increasingly canny political player eager to pour her popularity into her husband’s re-election campaign. But interviews with more than 30 current and former aides, as well as some of the first couple’s closest friends, conducted for “The Obamas,” a new book, show that she has been an unrecognized force in her husband’s administration and that her story has been one first of struggle, then turnaround and greater fulfillment.
Mrs. Obama is a supportive but often anxious spouse, suspicious of conventional political thinking, a groundbreaking figure who has acutely felt the pressures and possibilities of being the first African-American in her position and a first lady who has worked to make her role more meaningful.
Initially, she had considered postponing her move to the White House for months; after arriving, she bristled at its confinements and obligations — unable to walk her dog without risking being photographed, and monitored by her husband’s aides for everything from how she decorated the family’s private quarters to whether she took makeup artists on overseas trips.
New to the ways of Washington but impassioned about what her husband had been elected to do, she saw herself as a guardian of values. She was sometimes harder on her husband’s team than he was, eventually urging him to replace them, and the tensions grew so severe that one top adviser erupted in a meeting in 2010, cursing the absent first lady.
“She has very much got his back,” said David Axelrod, Mr. Obama’s longtime strategist, in an interview. “When she thinks things have been mishandled or when things are off the track,” he continued, “she’ll raise it, because she’s hugely invested in him and has a sense of how hard he’s working, and wants to make sure everybody is doing their work properly.”
Mrs. Obama’s difficulties illuminate some of the president’s central challenges in the White House, including how the Obamas’ freshness to political life, a selling point in 2008, became a liability in office. Her worries about his staff point to a chief executive with little management experience who clung to an inner circle less united than it appeared. (Mr. Emanuel’s relationship with the president grew so strained that the chief of staff secretly offered to resign in early 2010; Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, had a tense relationship with Mrs. Obama and with Valerie Jarrett, another adviser). She shared the president’s ambivalence about political chores and the back-patting and schmoozing that can help get things done in Washington. read more

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