Monday, February 18, 2008

NEWSWEEK: Cover: The Real Michelle Obama

The February 25, 2008 issue of Newsweek (on newsstands Monday, February 18), "The Real Michelle Obama," looks at how the aspiring First Lady is coping with the scrutiny, balancing work and family life, and making sure her husband is "keeping it real" on the campaign trail. Plus: How Latinos may save Hillary Clinton's campaign; What the assassination of Imad Mugniyah means to Hezbollah; How Second Life avatars may one day serve therapeutic purposes; and new ways of fighting male infertility. (PRNewsFoto/NEWSWEEK) NEW YORK, NY UNITED STATES 02/16/2008

17 Feb 2008 17:42 Africa/Lagos

NEWSWEEK: Cover: The Real Michelle Obama



NEW YORK, Feb. 17 /PRNewswire/ --

Michelle Obama was never much interested in calling attention to herself. Now a very public figure, Michelle has accepted the role of aspiring First Lady and the sometimes uncomfortable scrutiny that comes with it. In Newsweek's February 25 cover, "The Real Michelle Obama" (on newsstands Monday, February 18), Senior White House Correspondent Richard Wolffe profiles the woman who Barack Obama has called "my rock" -- the person who keeps him focused and grounded.

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Those who know Michelle Obama invariably describe her as poised, relaxed and confident. "There is no difference between the public Michelle and the private Michelle," says University of Chicago law professor David Strauss, who sits with her on the board of the University of Chicago's Lab School. "There's no pretense." Yet that confidence did not come naturally. Now 44, Michelle has had to overcome persistent self-doubts and insecurity-about her abilities, about race and class, and about what kind of life she was supposed to lead.

Part of Michelle Obama's appeal is that she comes across as so normal despite the growing national campaign. As a political spouse, she is somewhat unusual. She isn't the traditional booster who sticks to a script. Nor is she a surrogate campaign manager, ordering the staff around and micromanaging the candidate's every move. She travels the country giving speeches and attending events, but resists staying away for more than one night at a stretch. When the couple catch up several times a day on the phone, the talk is more likely to be about their daughters than the latest poll projections. Michelle has made it her job to ensure that Barack doesn't himself lose sight of what's normal. Michelle does this in part by tethering him to the more mundane responsibilities of a husband and father. She insists that he fly home from wherever he is to attend ballet recitals and parent-teacher conferences. Michelle recently bought two MacBook laptops, one for Barack and one for the kids, so they could have video chats over the Internet. Last Thursday, she cleared his schedule so he could return home to Chicago and spend Valentine's Day with her and the girls.

During an interview with Newsweek she said that she feels she and Barack's relationship is "exactly the same because we talk every night. We talk as long as we need to. So I don't feel like I'm in any way disconnected from him ... I'm probably more connected with his work than I've ever been before ... In terms of physical time together, it's more sporadic. But mentally and emotionally, it feels like we're right where we've always been."

Still new enough to politics that she doesn't yet belabor her every word, Michelle's sharp humor poking fun at her husband -- she's joked that Obama snores and has bad breath in the morning -- can sometimes fall flat. This is especially true when people see the punch lines in print, where her comments can be read as disrespectful. At a recent speech in Wisconsin, the excited young woman introducing Michelle flubbed her line, saying she was "honored to introduce the next president!" Michelle strode to the podium with a big smile. "I like that promotion that I got," she told the crowd. "I don't know if Barack knows yet. We can announce it on the news tonight. He's going to be the First Lady." Although she realizes not everyone finds her jokes funny, she doesn't seem all that interested in curbing her tongue. "Somehow I've been caricatured as this emasculating wife," she tells Newsweek. "Barack and I laugh about that. It's just sort of, like, do you think anyone could emasculate Barack Obama? Really now."

She is, however, learning to not always say what comes to mind, especially within earshot of reporters. She took flak for voicing ambivalence about Hillary Clinton in a recent ABC News interview, when she said she would need to "think about" supporting her if she won the nomination. (Now she says that interview was edited to cut out her positive comments about Clinton.) Michelle had in fact spoken positively about Clinton in the past, saying she admired her accomplishments as First Lady. "This is what I haven't learned how to do," she says. "It's like I can't think out loud. I can't sort of meander through because then somebody takes a clip of the first part" and twists it.

When asked if she wants to emulate Clinton's model of a First Lady who took on policy issues, Michelle said, "I never think in terms of her or anybody else, because I don't know Hillary Clinton ... I don't think I can honestly emulate somebody else. I think I can only be who I can be in this role. And that's going to come with all the pluses and minuses and baggage and insecurities and all the things that I'll bring into it, plus my hopes and dreams along with it."

In her stump speech, she uses her own life as a rebuke to those who have said that she and her husband aren't ready for the White House. She tells the story of a 10-year-old girl she met in a beauty parlor in South Carolina who told her that if Barack wins the White House, "it means I can imagine anything for myself."

That story, Michelle says, was just like her own: "She could have been me. Because the truth is, I'm not supposed to be here, standing here. I'm a statistical oddity. Black girl, brought up on the South Side of Chicago. Was I supposed to go to Princeton? No ... They said maybe Harvard Law was too much for me to reach for. But I went, I did fine. And I'm certainly not supposed to be standing here."

Also in the cover package: Associate Editor Raina Kelley writes that while Michelle Obama defies stereotypes, she also can't escape them. "She is a strong, smart black woman who does not hesitate to speak her mind," Kelley writes. "But as her husband rises from underdog to front runner, and Michelle becomes more visible and vocal in the campaign, those 'feisty dame' stereotypes that had been her strengths might be turning around to bite her. Critics are now taking her to task for being emasculating, sarcastic and bossy-characteristics that are just on the other side of the looking glass from strong, smart, black and female." But which stereotype will stick?

(Read entire cover package at

Cover: Barack's Rock

Interview: "I Can Only Be Who I Can Be"

Column: A Real Wife, in a Real Marriage

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Source: Newsweek

CONTACT: Brenda Velez of Newsweek, +1-212-445-4078

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