As campaign heats up, Michelle Obama settles into first lady role
First lady Michelle Obama visits Des Moines, Iowa, last week as part of her national campaign against childhood obesity (Getty Images)
February 13th, 2012
04:04 PM ET

As campaign heats up, Michelle Obama settles into first lady role

Washington (CNN) - First lady Michelle Obama is a popular American political figure, even more so than her husband. Her name, face and stories of her influence behind the scenes are a constant in the media, and sometimes in not so flattering words and images.

In books, she is portrayed as battling with White House insiders. In magazines, she has been satirized as a militant activist. On TV, she responds to those who see her as an "angry black woman."

But still, she stays centered, focusing on her issues - health and young children, military families and raising her family inside the White House bubble.

"The administration is doing everything they can to keep her out in the public eye and remind everyone why they liked this family in the first place," said Garrett Graff, editor of The Washingtonian magazine.

But that warm embrace isn't universal, and the first lady made note of it in a recent interview with CBS.

"There will always be people who don't like me," Obama told Gayle King on "CBS This Morning."

Ever since her husband announced his candidacy for the 2008 presidential race, she said some have viewed her as "some kind of angry black woman."

First ladies are always placed under the microscope and often become the targets of harsh critics. Paul Begala, a former adviser in the Clinton administration, said the public is an equal opportunity offender.

"Some liberals attacked Nancy Reagan unfairly. A whole lot of conservatives attacked Hillary Clinton when I was working for her husband in the White House," said Begala, who is also a CNN contributor.

For Michelle Obama the first punch came shortly after then-Sen. Barack Obama decided to run for president. Beaming with pride, she told an audience that "for the first time in my adult lifetime I'm really proud of my country."

That comment drew fire from conservatives who questioned her patriotism. She was forced to clarify her remarks.

Then there was the portrayal of her on the cover of The New Yorker. A sketch showed her with a machine gun slung across her back, sporting an Afro and wearing combat boots like 1960s activist Angela Davis.

The first lady has carved out a public role for herself as a strong advocate for military families and promoter of a healthy lifestyle, especially for children.

At events or in TV appearances, she is only too willing to tout her fitness by joining in jumping jacks or getting down on the ground for push-ups. On "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno," she playfully pressured the late-night entertainer to eat his veggies. She challenged talk-show host Jimmy Fallon to a tug-of-war contest in the White House.

Beyond promoting her initiatives, the first lady also has used the spotlight to pull the curtain back on her softer side.
Whether it's talking about her role as a mom or trying her hand at acting, such as a recent cameo appearance on the hit Nickelodeon comedy "iCarly," Obama tries to bring humor and personality inside the Washington bubble.

The Washingtonian's Graff said the first lady plays a unique role in American society. "We don't expect them to have the gravitas of the president, and so you can have a little more fun, be in photo opportunities and do things the president can't do because of his office," he said.

As the president campaigns for a second term, the first lady is also able to do something else.

Her trips often take her to key battleground states, where her message re-enforces the president's policies and her presence at fundraisers raises campaign cash.

"I know that if we come together and we do this work, we will elect the president that this country deserves," she recently told Obama supporters.

At another event, she pumped up the audience with a call and answer riff: "Do you have his back? Are you fired up? Are you ready to go?"

Said Begala, who considers himself an Obama supporter: "I think the first lady is not only the president's greatest asset in his political campaign; she's his greatest asset in his life. Political hacks like me would like to use her all the time."

But Begala warned she shouldn't be overused or become "too political" because that could "diminish her value."
In her supporting role, she is trying to strike a balance as wife, mother and first lady while challenging a lingering negative image that she insists is off the mark.

"I just hope that over time, that people get to know me," she told CBS.

Topics: Michelle Obama • The Family • The News

« Previous entry
soundoff (15 Responses)
  1. sara

    I love this first lady. Smart, intelligent, pretty, stylist and doing work that matters a great deal in this country....our Future. Children and families.

    February 13, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
    • Howard

      The Obama's have played the AMERICAN PEOPLE again ... and, the only reason they keep getting away with it, over and over again, is because of the obama stooges, who continually defend, support, and excuse them, no matter how badly they mess up this country. If these corrupt, radical, narcissists get another four years, without the fear of getting reelected holding them in check, they will be even more arrogant and power hungry ... and, you will be able to kiss American democracy goodbye

      February 13, 2012 at 11:18 pm |
      • jvh707

        If you republicans do not figure yourselves out, you will surly lose again in 2016. We (American’s) are tired of this no nonsensical rederick. Getting the facts straight starts with YOU seek the truth and demand this from your republican leaders and this country will be better off.

        February 14, 2012 at 11:22 am |
      • khrish

        Have you ever considered the fact that it may be YOU who is the stooge????

        February 14, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
    • John

      What do you think of Laura Bush and all of the good she does around the world?
      I am not sure what you think MO has actually done for this country. Maybe you could enlighten us.

      February 14, 2012 at 6:55 am |
      • jean2009

        Well John , if you really want to give a hand to a retired busy first lady, how about a big round of applause to Hilary Clinton who has actually done something since she left the White House. The last I checked Laura Bush retired to a rich enclave in Texas and wrote a book about herself.

        FYI The article above is not about water under the bridge, nor is it about Laura Bush... who seemed like a nice lady when she was first lady.

        The above article is about our current lovely first lady Michelle Obama who is doing a wonderful job. A job she has done before and since becoming first lady. See started at age 29 working for Public Allies a non-profit charity and since then most of her endeavors have been directed toward non-profit work dedicated to helping others. The Let's Move Campaign which educates people about the benefits of eating healthier and exercising more is something that a country of obese people could use. Currently 64% of Americans are considered overweight or obese...and many of them are children. One in five children between 5 and 17 are considered overweight or obese.

        Her doing anything seems to gall you to no end...So what... that is life. It is your problem that you are ignorant of facts, petty and miserable and can't seem to really appreciate the moment in which we are living. That you are a miserable warped and twisted FAUX stooge who is living in the past is your problem not ours. It seems with you the old adage about "No good deed goes unpunished" is true. May I ask are you a junk-food producer or a doctor that treats obese people? If that is the case a better life style may cut into their bottom line. Otherwise quit with the whining it only makes you appear stupid and irrational.

        February 14, 2012 at 11:26 am |
      • khrish

        She certainly gets your attention. You can't stay away from articles on her. DON'T HATE! I can understand the attraction.

        February 14, 2012 at 2:01 pm |
  2. andy

    The First Lady is even better than the President and the President is pretty great himself.

    February 13, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
  3. NOvember 2012

    too funny...she is all over the media as barry..I mean barack runs for another term... sooooo shallow...obvious.

    February 13, 2012 at 10:22 pm |
    • jean2009

      @ Nogoodsense2012 – The one thing which is not sooooo shallow here is the obvious depth of your ignorance.

      February 14, 2012 at 11:45 am |
    • khrish

      for an example of SHALLOW try looking at those bozos who want your vote from the republican party. Now that's shalllow for your behind. Besides, if this is such a turn off to you, why are you here? You won't find me at a site with those candidates that you obviously believe are going to make a better America. You all can't tear yourself away from any story on the First Family. To me, that speaks volumes. LOL

      February 14, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
      • C-Lo

        It does speak volumes...that you will not go out and see what the other candidates are specifically proposing and what their stated platforms are. You "stay away" from those sites, meaning you speak from a position of pure ignorance, only "knowing" what is spoon fed you by the left-wing propogandists.

        Maybe take some time to review what those platforms are so you can make an educated comparison.

        Shallow may be defined by calling someone (or group) "bozo" without any direct investigation of them but only by heresay from others. Just a thought.

        February 14, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
      • jean2009

        @C-Lo Absolutely I know what the other candidates stand for, and what their platform contains. The 76 years of educated in depth comparisons of both party platforms, leaves me no doubt. I am absolutely certain of which has the well being of the most Americans at heart.

        February 14, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
  4. caridad

    This is very true. Deval Patrick tried to oatrpee in this sphere as well in 2006. Granted, it wasn't to this extent. The Internet allows grass roots campaigns to extend their reach well beyond what was previously possible.It would serve Obama well to continue his new media marketing throughout his first term. Much like Patrick, he is inheriting a wicked mess, which will not be fixed in 4 years. Much of the work needing to be done in the first 1 or 2 years will be laying a foundation, which will seem like not a lot is happening to the outside observer inside baseball stuff. New media is a great tool for transparency, something government has lacked and desperately needs. He has a direct connection to citizens without the filter of the media. He must use it keep people engaged especially those who might think politics only happens every 4 years.

    March 2, 2012 at 3:55 am |
  5. RS, CA

    "I just hope that over time, that people get to know me," she told CBS.
    Yup, got to know you all right during the last election! Didn't like you then, don't like you now, Michelle. A made-up, dressed-up, phony consort to the Empty Suit Obama!

    May 4, 2012 at 10:32 am |