Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Michelle Obama: The Tale of Two Very Different Potential First Ladies

As I promised in my last post, here are parts of the October Reader’s Digest article covering Melinda Henneberger’s interview with Michelle Obama, along with my comments which are in blue. Hopefully, after reading both posts, you’ll know a little more about the two women whose husbands are seeking the highest office in our country.

Which one of these women will be our next first lady? We’ll soon know, as the election is less than 30 days away. The information I garnered from these two articles also shed an intimate light on the man who will be our next president. For a few this information may change their vote, but for most, I think our prior choice has only been confirmed. I would be interested to know whether or not any of this information is new to you, so don’t hesitate to leave a comment. Or, as some folks already do, feel free to send your comments to my email address. Either way, I’d enjoy hearing your opinions, even when they don’t agree with mine. Now, on to Henneberger’s interview with Michelle Obama.

“Before I met Michelle Obama, her brother, Craig Robinson, told me that to really understand her, I’d have to know a little bit about their father. Fraser Robinson worked swing shifts for the city of Chicago, tending the boilers at a water-filtration plant. ‘My father was not college-educated,’ said Craig, head basketball coach for Oregon State University, but was ‘full of integrity,’ the ‘gold standard’ of husbands and ‘a hardworking man who raised two kids when he had multiple sclerosis.’

When I sit down with the potential first lady at her husband’s Chicago campaign headquarters, I see what her brother is getting at. In nearly an hour with Michelle and her 70-year-old mother, Marian Robinson, nothing comes across more clearly than the extent to which 44-year-old Michelle was molded by the years she spent watching her father, whose determination defined strength for Michelle. She came to see complaining as a moral failing and a show of self-indulgence. ‘Seeing a parent with a disability moving through the world and living life as if that disability didn’t matter,’ Michelle says, ‘always made us think, What do we have to complain about? We wake up, we bound out of bed, we are healthy, we’re happy, and our father is struggling to get out of bed. But he never missed a day of work, never talked about being sick. So it made it hard to wake up and say, “I don’t want to go to school.”’”
So far, it sounds like Michelle comes from a regular, working-class family who taught her to do what you have to do to face a day without complaining. Not much else can be garnered from the above paragraphs except that Michelle wasn’t from a rich, elitist family. In other words, she’s from a family much like many of ours.

“But victimhood is not her style. On the contrary, she’s disinclined to take political jabs personally and so disinterested in dissecting or answering them that when I invite her to take umbrage, she practically yawns. She’s a big girl, she says, and sees that those attacks are not about her, not at all.”
It would seem that Michelle is not thin-skinned and refuses to throw back the mud pies that are thrown at her. How refreshing!

“Here in the Midwest, the highest compliment that can be paid someone who has done well in life is that he or she is ‘still so normal.’ Michelle Obama easily qualifies for the participant ribbon in that event, turning up at Obama headquarters on time to the minute, in a simple black-and-white cotton skirt and sleeveless blouse, with one arm around her mom. (Marian, who is on her way to pick up her grandkids at camp and agreed to come only because her daughter promised that she wouldn’t have to have her picture taken, has never given an interview with her daughter before.) Because campaign spouses tend to keep a wary eye on the political mercenaries who run these operations, it’s a bit startling that even the volunteers call her Michelle and shout a casual greeting as she arrives. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a presidential candidate’s wife inspire less fear in the troops.”
From this we can see some of Michelle’s personal qualities. She has a good relationship with her mother, who is apparently willing to help out like many ‘normal’ grandmothers do every day. I love it that the grandmother is picking the children up from camp instead of having them fetched home in a limo. The fact that the campaign helpers are at ease around Michelle is very telling, as is Henneberger’s comment about Michelle not instilling fear in the troops. It would seem that Michelle does not have a Queen Me complex.

“For a while, she’d hoped to become a pediatrician. ‘I like kids, and I thought being a doctor was a noble profession.’ But? ‘Then I got to high school and started taking science. And math.’ Today she works in a medical center, but as an administrator for the University of Chicago Hospitals. (Besides heading up and quadrupling the number of volunteers who come in to lend a hand, and rejuvenating a volunteer program to give time to the community), “she’s also led a push to get patients who use the ER for routine care connected to neighborhood clinics instead, both to cut costs and to improve preventive care for low-income families.”
She has a career that allows her to give back to her community and has apparently used her position to help others while at the same time, managing to cut costs. Very admirable; I wonder if her hubby will be able to do likewise on a national level?

“If Michelle is vain about anything, it’s not her fancy degrees from Princeton and Harvard Law, or even her husband’s presidential aspirations, but the family she was born into. Her parents lavished her with ‘structure and consistency and chores,’ made their kids budget their allowance and their time, and played board games with them every Saturday night.

The family’s one-bedroom apartment – the upper floor of a bungalow in the South Shore neighborhood – was so snug that Michelle and Craig slept in the living room, which they divided with partitions, up until they packed for college. Marian still lives there; she occupies the whole house now, in the same part of town where both she and her husband were born.”
This is a picture of a woman who is still proud of her roots, even though they were rather humble. She doesn’t try to be someone other than who she really is. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if she could bring that normal family atmosphere to the formal White House, showing the whole world that most of America is made up of everyday people? The fact is, the percentage of rich, elite families in our country is very small, with most of us having to work real jobs for a living. Since Michelle and Barack are NOT from rich families, would that translate to them being able to understand the plight of the rest of us who sometimes have to struggle to pay the bills? Personally, I'm fond of the fact that Michelle is not beauty queen material. It tells me she's probably not a high maintenance woman.

“When Michelle first started dating Barack, his mother-in-law says, ‘I didn’t know his mother was white for a long time. It didn’t come up. Not that it made any difference, because that wasn’t an issue in our family.’”
Michelle was not raised in a racist family, and that is to her parents’ credit. Regardless of the hateful emails I’ve received from 'Christian' people who are racist, I do not believe Barack Obama’s staff will be made up of only black people wearing turbans and robes. Neither do I believe that Al Sharpton and/or Jesse Jackson will be running the country. Some of the ridiculous allegations I’ve read remind me of when Jack Kennedy was running for president and my poor grandfather, a staunch Democrat, was in such a worried state he almost became physically ill. For the first time in his life he would have to vote Republican, because the belief was that if Jack Kennedy became president, the Pope would run the country. Sadly, many of us haven’t come very far in our thinking in the last almost fifty years!

“Paradoxically, perhaps, their father’s illness taught both his children that if he could get up and go to work and enjoy his life, then they didn’t have to feel constrained, either, in any way. With one exception: How would Michelle ever find a man who could live up to her father’s example? ‘That was the kind of guy my sister was looking for,’ her brother said. ‘We used to joke as a family, “She’ll never find a guy like that, because they don’t exist anymore.”’ What she sought most of all in a mate was Fraser’s glass-half-full fortitude – and there’s a pretty straight line between that worldview and Obama’s ‘Yes, we can!’”
In my opinion, Michelle’s positive attitude added to her husband’s can do spirit would be an asset to our nation in general and to our governing body in particular.

“Michelle met her future husband in 1988, when he took a summer job at the Chicago law firm Sidley & Austin, where she specialized in intellectual property law. She was assigned to mentor Obama, who had just finished his first year at Harvard Law. As he recalled their first meeting in The Audacity of Hope, ‘I remember that she was tall – almost my height in heels – and lovely, with a friendly, professional manner that matched her tailored suit and blouse.’ He was smitten from the get-go, but she worried that it wasn’t a good idea to date someone from the office. Even when she brought him home to meet the family, they at first assumed that ‘he was just another one who wasn’t going to make it,’ her brother said. ‘It was hard to pass muster with my sister.’ Michelle asked Craig to check out Barack by playing basketball with him – she’d always heard their dad say that you could tell a lot about a man’s character on the court. And? ‘No personality flaws with respect to the basketball evaluation,’ Craig said. So Michelle and Barack started dating.”
What could I possibly add to that??? Straight forward, honest and includes a sweet ah factor. I especially liked the idea that Michelle’s family was totally involved in her decision-making in regards to a future mate.

“Her husband has written that what he wanted more than anything was to be the kind of father he’d never had. In a speech he gave on Father’s Day, Obama said, ‘I resolved many years ago that it was my obligation to break the cycle – that if I could be anything in life, I would be a good father to my girls.’ Obama wanted a partner who would expect nothing less and a woman who saw parenthood that same way. In a recent interview with Reader’s Digest, he credits Michelle with creating a ‘zone of normalcy’ for his daughters. The girls still go to the same school. Michelle dropped them off and picked them up each day until recently, when her mother took over. They still don’t have a nanny. ‘Their lives haven’t changed or been disrupted, and that’s been Michelle’s greatest gift to me,’ says her husband.”
Both Michelle and her husband are trying to make as normal a life as possible for their daughters, although I’m sure they could now afford a nanny and a chauffer. The only downside I can see to them moving into the White House is the fact that the girls’ lives would change drastically. But from what I’ve read so far, I’m betting Michelle will help keep them grounded. I also like the fact that Barack seems to have the utmost respect for his wife and isn’t shy about proclaiming that fact.

In the article, Michelle deals with the questions that had been raised in regards to their then-pastor, Jeremiah Wright. She said, ‘Obviously, if we had heard anything like that, we wouldn’t have been part of it.’

“But there’s no question that Wright’s words were even more damaging when coupled with Michelle’s own statement – played on cable television almost as often as Wright’s – that ‘for the first time in my adult life, I am really proud of my country.’ In the same speech, at a rally in Wisconsin last February, she went on to say that ‘I feel privileged to even be witnessing this, traveling around states all over this country being reminded that there’s more that unites us than divides us, that the struggles of a farmer in Iowa are no different than on the South Side of Chicago, that people are feeling the same pain and wanting the same things for their families.’

Only the ‘proud’ comment is recalled now, despite her insistence that she didn’t mean to say anything more incendiary than that she’s never felt prouder. Because Barack Obama is not as well-known as his Republican rival, voters look to his wife for clues about what kind of a person her husband is in a way that they may not look to Cindy McCain. So ‘changing that first impression will be critical to the public’s perception of her,’ said the University of Notre Dame’s Robert Schmuhl, ‘and possibly to whether her husband wins the White House.’”
Considering the fact that, in my opinion, the Republicans know they have such a slim chance of regaining another four years in the White House right after the debacle of the last eight years, no matter what she would have said, they were waiting like vultures for an opportunity to discredit both Michelle and Barack. While I do think they should have been more careful in their choice of pastors, I don’t hold it against them.

Here’s why: My father was a white, Pentecostal minister and he used the pulpit to whip people around on an almost weekly basis, holding them to rules that weren’t even scriptural. Yet, most of the congregation stood behind him. Whether or not they lived the way he said they should once they got home, I have no way of knowing. But as an older adult, I’ve talked to former members of my father’s churches, and most of them don’t even remember how he distorted the scriptures. In other words, for personal reasons, I have to give the Obamas a pass on Jeremiah Wright. We should ALL be more careful in our choice of pastors!

As far as Michelle’s proud statement goes, I think someone “strained at a gnat and swallowed a camel.” (Matthew 23:24) A person couldn’t have done all the work she’s done for her community and neighborhood if she was ashamed of her country. Think, People; THINK!!!

“She’s no longer ambivalent about whether that (Barack winning the White House) would be such a good idea: ‘Eventually I thought, This is a smart man with a good heart, and if the only reason I wouldn’t want him to be president is that I’m married to him, no, I can’t be that selfish.’ If Barack is elected, Michelle insists, she has no interest in a role beyond that of help-mate and mother. As November approaches, she is impatient with questions about attacks on her: ‘I could care less – no, I don’t want to say that – but I don’t worry about me.’ (She is learning to self-edit.) ‘I worry about the issues, so the focus should be on moving the ball forward, on the greater good of our kids, the environment, and who cares what they say about me.’”
How refreshing – a first lady who doesn’t want to attend cabinet meetings and briefings and is interested in being only a help-mate and mother. With her brains, experience and can-do attitude, I’m sure she’ll find a cause to champion, but I don’t think it will consume her. She knows how to live with little materially and yet is comfortable with success. Her husband’s respect and admiration for her shows and I think they make a great team.

My bottom line on Michelle Obama is this; I have great respect for her. She seems to have the thick skin that would certainly be required of a president’s wife, yet the ability to be warm and put those around her at ease. She doesn’t seem to have a big head and remembers her roots. Since she is as intelligent as her husband, yet doesn’t demand an important role in which to prove that intelligence, and since she seems to be comfortable in her own skin, I hope Washington is ready for her. Like Bess Truman, she may shake it up a bit and I think she would be an asset to our country in every way. She has used her role as a woman, wife and mother to set a good example for other women. In spite of her ability to put her husband and family first, she doesn’t seem to put herself last. That’s a rare quality anywhere!
Can YOU see her in the White House? What do you think she has to offer other women and young girls? Do you think she can handle all the social occasions that would be demanded of her as first lady? Do you think she would present our country well to all the visiting foreign heads of states and their mates whom she would have to accommodate? How do you think she would be perceived abroad, as she visits other countries? Since material things don’t seem to be important to her, what do you think would be her first order of business once she’s moved into the White House?


Becky said... i just read both your posts...

I haven't spent a lot of time trying to wade through the muck of articles and media-versions and campaign-versions of things on either candidate...but, i'm really glad other people do it for me...those two articles really helped me understand a bit about obama and mccain. i gotta say...i especially hope it's obama for two more reasons: 1. his wife seems ready for the it and 2. cindy needs a break.

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