Recently released New York Times reporter Jodi Kantor’s new book “The Obamas” is bound to be a best seller. Not only does it give an intense inside look at the inner struggles, conflicts and personalities of the West and East Wing of the White House, but the book devotes a generous amount of pages dissecting the First Lady. Up until now, not many of the several books written about Michelle Obama have portrayed her as less than an uber confident powerful and endearing figure.
In the book, Kantor depicts a woman ambivalent and hesitant about having to uproot her family from Chicago and settle into the White House. She writes that Mrs. Obama considered and asked to break protocol and move in later, though she eventually decided against that.
Kantor also relays, through some of the several dozen interviews she had with various key and inside players in the administration, that Michelle Obama was unsure about what her role should be as First Lady. In a detailed excerpt, published in the New York Times on Monday, Kantor writes:
“This was Michelle’s most profound influence on the Obama presidency, the sense of purpose she shared with her husband, the force of her worldview, her passionate beliefs about access, opportunity, and fairness; her readiness to do what was unpopular and pay political costs. Every day, he met with advisers who emphasized the practical realities of Washington, who reminded him of poll numbers; he spent his nights with Michelle, who talked about moral imperatives, aides said, who reminded him again and again that they were there to do good, to avoid being distracted by political noise, to be bold.”
She also suggested that in Mrs. Obama’s passion and interest to support her husband, help him perfect speeches and be a supporting figure, she sometimes clashed with his top advisers whom she wasn’t always sure looked out for the best interest of her husband.
Depending on one’s perception of the First Lady, Kantor’s characterizations would either stimulate primeval empathy for what appears to be an example of that prototypical strong woman who stands behind her man or it would embolden and validate those who have extreme dislike of the First Lady partially because they see her as the antithesis of every other First Lady who ever occupied the White House before her.
It’s difficult to assume if this wades into uncomfortable racial territory about the image of “the strong” or “angry” Black woman who fiercely guards her family, hands on hips, waving finger and ballistic mouth. Ultimately, one gets the sense that Mrs. Obama is simply doing what she can given the circumstances. Whether that becomes more problematic for the White House in this reelection remains to be seen.