Michelle Obama: a Partner and an Asset
By Gabriella Osamor
Today we bring you the story of Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama wife of the 44th and incumbent President of the United States, Barack Obama, and the first African-American First Lady of the United States of America who a recent report called ‘The White House Rebel’.
Michelle LaVaughn Robinson was born on January 17, 1964, in Chicago, Illinois to Fraser Robinson III, a city water plant employee and Democratic precinct captain, and Marian (née Shields), a secretary at Spiegel's catalog store.
She was raised on the South Side of Chicago, she attended Princeton University and Harvard Law School before returning to Chicago to work at the law firm Sidley Austin, where she met her future husband. Subsequently, she worked as part of the staff of Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley, and for the University of Chicago Medical Center
Her mother was a full-time homemaker until Michelle entered high school. The Robinson and Shields families can trace their roots to pre-Civil War African Americans in the American South. Her paternal great-great grandfather, Jim Robinson, was an American slave in the state of South Carolina, where some of her paternal family still reside.
Michelle grew up in a two-story house on Euclid Street in Chicago's South Shore community area. Her parents rented a small apartment on the house's second floor from her great-aunt, who lived downstairs.
Fraser & Marian Robinson, parents of Michelle
She was raised in what she describes as a "conventional" home, with "the mother at home, the father works, and you have dinner around the table". Michelle and her brother, Craig (who is 21 months older), skipped the second grade. By the sixth grade, Michelle joined a gifted class at Bryn Mawr Elementary School (later renamed Bouchet Academy).
She attended Whitney Young High School, Chicago's first magnet high school, where she was a classmate of Jesse Jackson's daughter Santita. The round trip commute from the Robinsons' South Side home to the Near West Side, where the school was located, took three hours.
Michelle was on the honour roll for four years, she took advanced placement classes, became a member of the National Honour Society and served as student council treasurer graduating in 1981 as salutatorian.
She was inspired to follow her brother Craig to Princeton University; he graduated in 1983. At Princeton, she challenged the teaching methodology for French because she felt that it should be more conversational.
As part of her requirements for graduation, Michelle wrote a thesis entitled "Princeton-Educated Blacks and the Black Community." "I remember being shocked," she says, "by college students who drove BMWs. I didn't even know parents who drove BMWs."
Michelle majored in sociology and minored in African American studies and graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in 1985. She earned her Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree from Harvard Law School in 1988.
At Harvard she participated in demonstrations advocating the hiring of professors who were members of minorities and worked for the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, assisting low-income tenants with housing cases. She is the third First Lady with a postgraduate degree, after her two immediate predecessors, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Laura Bush.
Michelle met Barack Obama when they were among the few African Americans at their law firm, Sidley Austin (she has sometimes said only two, although others have pointed out there were others in different departments), and she was assigned to mentor him as a summer associate.
Their relationship started with a business lunch and then a community organisation meeting where he first impressed her. The couple's first date was to the Spike Lee movie Do the Right Thing.
Barack and Michelle married in October 1992. They now have two daughters
Michelle and Barack married in October 1992, and they have two daughters, Malia Ann (born 1998) and Natasha (known as Sasha, born 2001). After his election to the U.S. Senate, the Obama family continued to live on Chicago's South Side, choosing to remain there rather than moving to Washington, D.C.
The Obamas' daughters attended the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, a private school. As a member of the school's board, Michelle fought to maintain diversity in the school when other board members connected with the University of Chicago tried to reserve more slots for children of the university faculty.
Throughout her husband's 2008 campaign for President of the United States, Michelle made a "commitment to be away overnight only once a week — to campaign only two days a week and be home by the end of the second day" for their two children.
Michelle stated in an interview on The Ellen DeGeneres Show that they do not intend to have any more children. The Obamas have received advice from past first ladies Laura Bush, Rosalynn Carter and Hillary Rodham Clinton about raising children in the White House. Marian Robinson, Michelle's mother, has moved into the White House to assist with child care.
The campaign trail
Although Michelle has campaigned on her husband's behalf since early in his political career by handshaking and fund-raising, she did not relish the activity at first. When she campaigned during her husband's 2000 run for United States House of Representatives, her boss at the University of Chicago asked if there was any single thing about campaigning that she enjoyed; after some thought, she replied that visiting so many living rooms had given her some new decorating ideas.
At first, Michelle had reservations about her husband's presidential campaign, due to fears about a possible negative effect on their daughters. She says that she negotiated an agreement in which her husband was to give up smoking in exchange for her support of his decision to run.
About her role in her husband's presidential campaign she has said: "My job is not a senior adviser." During the campaign, she has discussed race and education by using motherhood as a framework.
In May 2007, three months after her husband declared his presidential candidacy; she reduced her professional responsibilities by 80 percent to support his presidential campaign. Early in the campaign, she had limited involvement in which she traveled to political events only two days a week and traveled overnight only if their daughters could come along.
By early February 2008 her participation had increased significantly, attending thirty-three events in eight days. She made several campaign appearances with Oprah Winfrey. She wrote her own stump speeches for her husband's presidential campaign and generally spoke without notes.
The presidential campaign was her first exposure to the national political scene; even before the field of Democratic candidates was narrowed to two, she was considered the least famous of the candidates' spouses.
Michelle said both she and her husband believed "that you work hard for what you want in life, that your word is your bond, and you do what you say you're going to do, that you treat people with dignity and respect, even if you don't know them, and even if you don't agree with them." She has always emphasised loving her country
Many sources have speculated that, as a high-profile African-American woman in a stable marriage, she will be a positive role model who will influence the view the world has of African-Americans.
Michelle has been compared to Jacqueline Kennedy due to her sense of style, and also to Barbara Bush for her discipline and decorum. Her white, one-shoulder Jason Wu 2009 inaugural gown was said to be "an unlikely combination of Nancy Reagan and Jackie Kennedy".
Michelle's style has been described as populist. She often wears clothes by designers Calvin Klein, Isabel Toledo, Narciso Rodriguez, Donna Ricco and Maria Pinto, and has become a fashion trendsetter, in particular her favoring of sleeveless dresses that showcase her toned arms.
As the wife of a Senator, and later the First Lady, she has become a fashion icon and role model for women. But the media have been criticised for focusing more on the first lady's fashion sense than her serious contributions.
Michelle has stated that she would like to focus attention as First Lady on issues of concern to military and working families. She has earned widespread publicity on the topic of healthy eating by planting the first White House vegetable garden since Eleanor Roosevelt served as first lady, and she is an advocate for poverty awareness.
In this report from Newsweek, we learn why Michelle has been called the:
White House Rebel
By Lois Romano
Secret mall trips. Dining out incognito. Michelle Obama has constructed a life inside the bubble—and has her own sense of her 2012 role, Lois Romano reports in Newsweek. The most recognizable woman in the world routinely ducks reporters to have what she calls a "normal" life.
Hiding beneath a baseball cap, the first lady of the United States has picked through sale racks in the frenetic Tysons Corner, Va., mall with girlfriends, bought supplies for her dog at Petco using her own credit card, and dined at some of D.C.'s hippest eateries largely unrecognized.
So secretive are her outings that when Washington Capitals hockey superstar Alex Ovechkin tweeted a photo in April with his arm around her at a busy Washington restaurant, media organizations were convinced it was a fake.
Michelle Obama laid down her markers quickly and in a way that has set Washington back on its heels. The White House was not going to imprison her, the media were not going to own her, and she would not be driven by external expectations.
She was supposed to be a different kind of first lady—an Ivy League-educated, fashion-trendsetting professional who blew up the conventions of the job. No one could have imagined back in the heady days following the election that she'd declare that she would work only two or three days a week, choose a couple of politically comfortable issues, and stay out of the glare of the political spotlight.
On conventional or …
The result has been a low-key tenure that some have found to be disappointingly conventional. But is it? What the chattering class has missed is that Michelle Obama, in an understated way, has in fact been transforming the job—but on her own terms.
She may have disappointed the Georgetown salon set with a casual disregard for social convention and annoyed the old political-wives club by not indulging them. But she has also spent untold hours with the other Washington--consciously extending the reach of the White House into D.C.'s black community, mentoring students, and choking up when she reflects on her own success to offer hope and dreams.
Later this month she will make an official trip to South Africa and Botswana to further expand her commitment to students and young leaders, education, and wellness. In short, Michelle Obama has figured out ways to navigate the bubble while channeling her own passions and holding on to her life.
But her carefully crafted world at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is about to be challenged anew. Her husband is entering his reelection bid battling rough economic headwinds, against a GOP energized by the successes of the 2010 mid-terms.
Barack Obama will need every ounce of his wife's considerable star power—she's polling 20 points ahead of her husband—to win reelection. Although the full-throttle campaign is still months away, Michelle is already traveling the country fundraising.
Michelle Obama laid down her markers quickly…the White House was not going to imprison her, the media were not going to own her, and she would not be driven by external expectations.
She must once again find her footing in the part of the job she hates the most—campaigning--but one she happens to excel at. "She has always been remarkably effective because no matter where you live or where you come from, you can relate to her," says White House official Stephanie Cutter, who worked closely with Michelle in 2008. "She conveys the same set of values and experiences families all over the country live by."
So reluctant has Michelle been to raise her profile that it's been easy to forget what a ferocious asset she was in the 2008 campaign. Toward the end, thousands of people were pushing into her rallies, shoving babies at her for photos, and mimicking her J.Crew clothes.
The first family of the United States
Coming off that huge success, Michelle startled the political establishment when she announced that she would limit her public appearances so she could tend to her family. (Her staff concedes that her initial declaration of working three days a week has been impossible to maintain.)
The president's strategists say privately they would have liked her to do some heavier political lifting over the past two years, but that she's not someone who can be pushed. "She was always a reluctant campaigner," says a West Wing staffer who has witnessed some of the machinations to coax the first lady into making more political appearances.
"She demands a level of thinking-through that can be taxing on the staff."
Edited by GABRIELLA OSAMOR
Photo Editing by EUDORA NGOZI NDUBISI