I’m sure by now you have noticed the “new Michelle Obama” by now.
You know her: the one on the April cover of Vogue magazine (her second since her hubby’s presidency), exquisitely outfitted on the outside and uncompromising on the inside.
It’s the same Mrs. O who responded to critics accusing her of diminishing the White House and of trying to steal the spotlight from the Academy Awards last month when she announced the winner of this year’s Best Picture category via satellite from the White House.
My bangs will have them talking, she told a crowd of school administrators and teachers at an event in Chicago in February, in short, dismissing the criticism. “We’ve got a lot of talking going on…everybody’s kitchen table conversation is now accessible to everybody else,” she said. “It’s absolutely not surprising.”
Ooh. Is that Chuptzah on display? Yes, it is.
In the Vogue issue, she also responded to those who said she and Barack do not schmooze enough with power players and the DC elite, saying all their free time is spent with their daughters and discussing their lives.
“What are they doing? And who’s got what practice? And what birthday party is coming up? And did we get a gift for this person? You know, I mean, it it’s endless,” Michelle Obama said of their conversations with and about
Translation: Can you get off my back and let me put my kids first and the social scene 5th or 6th in my life please?
This second term First Lady is stepping bravely out of the tightly controlled confines that kept her from being more brazen, outspoken and bold starting 6 years ago when her husband first earned the presidency.
Remember that triggering moment? The lingering brouhaha that percolated up following her infamous 2008 remark at a campaign stop in Milwaukee, Wisconsin about being proud of her country for the first time in her life during President Barack Obama’s first presidential bid.
Since then, efforts seemed to have been made to not stoke that “angry black woman” stereotype flame often hoisted on expressive and opinionated African American women. She’d keep any overt opinions quiet, out of the media and discreetly behind the scenes. That’s what NY Times journalist turned Obama biographer Jody Kantor said anyway in her 2012 Best Selling book The Obamas.
The double Ivy League grad (cum laude Princeton and Harvard law) who was once a senior member of the Chicago office of top prestigious law firm, Sidley and Austin, would have to tread cautiously.
Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker put it best in a recent piece about what can be expected from a second term Michelle Obama:
We have such conflicting feelings about first wives in an era when women do it all, including, eventually, becoming president. We want our first lady to be first a lady — a delicate balance between enjoying one’s attractiveness without being too sexy. Michelle’s sleeveless, toned arms have kept us riveted for four years.
We want our first ladies to be intelligent but not aggressively so. Supportive but not fawning. Politic but not political. We mostly want them to not embarrass us — and this will be the same for the first husband, when he arrives.
All that education and smarts could be intimidating. Ask Hillary Clinton, nothing scares some more than an ambitious First Lady. If not careful, she could be accused of trying to manipulate policy. That could hamper her husband’s chances at a second term for sure.
Politics is so fragile that way but she has managed to do better than Hil.
She has been able to maintain a steady public approval rating above 60 percent, having climbed to 70 percent occasionally. Comparatively, her Democratic First Lady predecessor Hillary Clinton’s approval rating ranged from as low at 47% (during Whitewater) to a peak of 67%.
Much like how across the pound a previously headstrong and opinionated Kate Middleton has had to turn in her outspoken self for pomp, circumstance and protocol and become a prim and proper Duchess, similarly Michelle Obama had been forced to toe a careful line so not to rock too many boats.
Now that another term is secure, she is freer to explore and burst out the bubble, and essentially tell those nitpicking her every move, clothing choice, food consumption decision, hair style and public appearance to go have a seat.
But in a more softer diplomatic way of course.
“I don’t think about that stuff,” she said after the whole Oscar-gate thing. “There’s no logic in that…it doesn’t have anything to do with me. Anyone in this position has a huge spotlight and in modern-day media, the spotlight just gets more intense. I don’t attribute this to me or Barack. The culture has just shifted.”
And with that, she brushed her shoulders off, did a Kanye shrug and has kept it popping ever since.
A couple weeks ago, on March 7, she joined her mom, pals Valerie Jarrett and Dr. Sharon Malone (Eric Holder’s wife) and a few friends at the 7pm performance of her favorite a capella singing group Sweet Honey in the Rock. It was a ladies night out. She even spoke briefly at the event. No Barack in sight.
AND…. rather than sojourn out of the ivory tower incognito a la the famous Target excursion, she journeyed outdoors and beyond the high heavily guarded wrought iron gates of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to have a business pow wow.
A couple days before the Sweet Honey performance, she was spotted at We the Pizza having a business meeting with a small group, again sans the hubby.
Cue Destiny’s Child “Independent Women.”
Pundits noted that Michelle Obama has taken a stance that wasn’t necessarily directly related to her First Move campaign. Baby steps. She is even being bold in social media, starring in her first Google hangout a couple weeks ago and a Twitter chat last week, on the third anniversary of her “Let’s Move” campaign. Before then, her social media presence was sparse.
She is not the First First lady to boldly step out in the second term.
After her husband’s second term, Laura Bush too went from reading children’s books for her literacy campaign to globe trotting and championing women’s rights all over the world.
Now surely, she can’t be expected to bolt out of the cannon and totally go rogue, but we perhaps can expect to hear much more of her authentic and previously hushed voice bellow much louder and braver.
Her fans had been asking for this new Michelle for a while now. They are finally getting her.