Michelle Obama has her own transition to work out
Michelle Obama has her own transition to work out
WASHINGTON – As Michelle Obama prepares for her new life at the White House, at least two things are certain about the kind of first lady she will be.
She will remain the new president's close confidante and adviser, in keeping with a tradition that transcends presidencies and political party. President-elect Obama has portrayed her as the family's "rock" — and told Newsweek magazine she had "veto power" over his decision to run for president.
She's also the mother of young, frolicking children — something the country hasn't seen in a first lady in decades.
Daughters, Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7, are her priority, Michelle Obama has often said, the last thing she thinks about before falling asleep at night and the first thing on her mind when she wakes up in the morning.
Her schedule during the presidential campaign was arranged so that she would get home to tuck them in at night and see them off in the morning.
Not since 1977, when 9-year-old Amy Carter moved in, has there been such young children at the White House.
Aides say publicly that Michelle Obama is not interested in helping shape policy or having a seat at her husband's decision-making table. At least for now, she wants to focus on easing the transition for the girls, finding them new schools and getting them settled and comfortable with a totally new way of life.
To that end, first lady Laura Bush showed Michelle Obama around the White House residence on Monday while their husbands met privately in the Oval Office.
"My first job, in all honesty, is going to continue to be mom-in-chief," she told Ebony magazine, "making sure that in this transition, which will be even more of a transition for the girls ... that they are settled and that they know they will continue to be the center of our universe."
A working mom herself, Michelle Obama, 44, was a high-level administrator at the University of Chicago Medical Center before taking a leave to help her husband's campaign. Familiar with the juggling act working mothers perform, she wants that to be one of her top issues as first lady.
"How to make sure our policies are structured in a way that supports that balance, whether it's more work/family leave, whether it's better health care. There are a lot of policies that go along with allowing women that freedom," she told the magazine.
She also wants to help military spouses and promote volunteerism.
Valerie Jarrett, a longtime family friend and co-chair of the president-elect's transition team, said Sunday in a TV interview: "Having a seat at .... the table and being co-president is not something she's interested in doing."
First ladies often start out slowly, then pick up the pace as they become more comfortable in their roles.
A lawyer with degrees from Princeton and Harvard universities, Michelle Obama became a magnet for criticism during the campaign, and Jarrett's comments could be taken as the start of an effort to lower her profile, de-emphasize her adviser role and present a more traditional, first lady persona, possibly to avoid repeating the mistake the Clintons made.
Though Barack Obama said no such thing, Bill Clinton joked during the 1992 campaign that the country would get two for one if it elected him.
A high-powered lawyer and children's advocate before her husband became president, Hillary Rodham Clinton accepted an assignment from him early in his administration to overhaul the nation's health care system. She failed, damaging herself and her husband's administration in the process.
Laura Bush started slowly, but grew increasingly comfortable with her public platform and ability to draw attention to issues as the eight years passed. She championed the rights of women in Afghanistan, delivered some of her husband's Saturday radio addresses and was outspoken against the crackdown on pro-democracy activists in Myanmar, in southeast Asia. She also has traveled through Europe, the Middle East and Africa on her own.
This year, she presided over a news conference in the White House briefing room, rare for a first lady, that was called to criticize Myanmar's military leaders for ineptness after a killer cyclone struck.
So, to the question of what kind of first lady Michelle Obama will be, there are some clues, including from her.
She has plenty of role models and has been compared to Jacqueline Kennedy, is every bit as high-powered as Hillary Clinton and has praised Laura Bush's calm and rational approach to issues.
Comparisons to Kennedy have centered on style and fashion. Watch for Michelle Obama to become a trendsetter, possibly a reluctant one. A sleeveless, off-the-rack, black-and-white dress she wore on "The View" quickly sold out. And she recently told comedian Jay Leno that the ensemble she wore on his show came from J. Crew.
Her approach to issues? Perhaps calm and rational, like her husband — and Laura Bush.
The first lady defended Michelle Obama after Republicans criticized her for saying she was proud of her country for the first time in her adult life. Asked about the criticism, Laura Bush said Michelle Obama probably meant to say she was "more proud" and that comments during a campaign are closely watched and often misconstrued.
Michelle Obama said on "The View" that she was touched by Laura Bush's comments and had sent her a note.
"And that's what I like about Laura Bush. You know, just calm, rational approach to these issues. And you know, I'm taking some cues. I mean, there's a balance. There's a reason why people like her. It's because she doesn't, sort of, you know, fuel the fire."