Media, Politics

The power behind the White House throne

By Rebecca Davis 8 January 2012

A new book about Barack and Michelle Obama suggests that America’s First Lady didn’t initially adapt as smoothly to her role as her polished appearances would suggest today. By REBECCA DAVIS.

“The Obamas”, by Jodi Kantor, will be published on Tuesday. All indications are that it will make for some interesting reading – and in particular with regards to Michelle Obama’s role in the White House. When Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008, the book reports, Michelle Obama reportedly found the changes to her lifestyle a real strain, resenting the fact that practically every decision she took, however banal, was monitored by presidential aides. 

Her major frustration, according to White House insiders, was adapting to what seemed to her to be a “shapeless post”, however. As a Harvard-trained lawyer, she reportedly didn’t see the point of participating in ceremonial events without any purpose beyond social niceties. She told advisers that she “wanted a more central role in communicating the administration’s message”, the book reports. Despite this, she was reportedly mindful of the precedent of Hilary Clinton, who won widespread resentment for what appeared to be meddling in her husband’s business. Barack Obama’s healthcare plan was a particularly important cause to her, however, and the stalling of the plan was a source of rising tension between Michelle and her husband’s erstwhile chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel. At one stage, the book reports, Emanuel’s frustration was such that he forbade Michelle from attending high-level meetings, leaving her to lobby other senior advisers via email. 

What ultimately gave Michelle Obama both more power and the leverage she sought in the administration, however, was her spiralling popularity. The First Lady is expected to be a valuable tool in Obama’s re-election campaign this year – but very much on her own terms. DM



Read more:

  • Michelle Obama and the Evolution of a First Lady, in the NY Times.
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