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Our First Lady Is Cool. Among other things. February 27, 2009

Posted by Suzanne Robinson in First Lady, politics.
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First Lady Michelle Obama is cool – her coolness, of course, includes her remarkable intelligence, her elegance, her kindness and caring, her spiritedness AND her calmness and her wonderful energy. Being the First Lady is an awesome responsibility, and being the first African American First Lady must bring even more awareness to your place as a role model – and in this, we are blessed to have Michelle Obama. If you watched her on the campaign trail and you’re watching her now, you see that she is bringing touches of refinement to some of her ways of being, but her way of being is already beautiful. I love the way she, as she would say, keeps it real – she reminds us often that she’s just like us, with a husband and family and good friends whom she loves and supports and in whom she takes great joy. She and her girls have spent their Saturdays hanging out with the same small group of her women friends and their children for a decade. Her relationships are solid and very important to her. And she wants to keep them close while she is in Washington. That’s cool.

She also lets us know that she shares many of the same day-to-day happenings with women across the country. I love her telling of her and her husband’s interactions about how long it takes each of them to get ready to attend a public event. They’re just like the conversations that take place at my house and at yours. He’s ready to go, and she’s still working on it. She tells us that ‘Barack,’ after throwing on a suit and tie, will say something like, how’s it going in there? She gives a bit of an eye roll, shakes her head, laughs and says, he just throws on a suit and tie and he’s ready to go, me, I’ve got the make up, I’ve got the hair, then trails off with laughter. We love that we can identify with her. In fact, some of us are just in love with her- I think her approval rating among progressive women must be something like 148%!. So many women love the First Lady, that Vogue Magazine featured her on its cover before she’d even moved into the White House. 

Polling on her popularity among Americans offers no terribly surprising results. In a NYT/CBS poll conducted this week, The First Lady’s approval ratings sit at 49%, which is higher than any First Lady in the past 28 years. And, only five percent of Americans have an unfavorable view of her, with 44% having not yet formed an opinion.

Mrs. Obama, of course, finds her strongest support among Democrats, liberals and women, with an approval rating of 70% among Democrats, 66% among liberals, and 56% among women. Then there are the men, Republicans and conservatives… Forty-one percent of men report a favorable opinion while Republicans and conservatives are largely ‘withholding judgment.’

But, if we can leave partisanship aside, we should all recognize that she is a talented, interested and interesting woman who has the capacity and desire to bring important ideas to the country, and to advocate for change. While she has made clear that being a mother is her first priority, she is accustomed, already, to being a working mother, and she is keeping a busy schedule working on issues that are important to her. She works from the residence some days, and her hours aren’t rigid, reports LLynn Sweet, Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun Times, who is keeping an eye on her state’s favorite daughter.

With her staff of several veteran political operatives who will deal with policy, planning, the media, and social events and 20 staffers, she spent her first weeks developing her portfolio of interests, according to her Chief of Staff, Jackie Norris, who calls the First Lady an ‘active presence.’ As she begins move toward implementing her agenda, she will focus on:

Assisting Military Families;
Promoting National Service;
Addressing ‘Women’s concerns’;
Promoting Healthy Living;
Advocating for Work-Family balance; and
Opening the White House to the community

And she has begun. The First Lady hosted a group of mostly 6th and 7th grade Washington D.C. students to the White House this week for a Celebration of Black History Month. As you can see in the YouTube video below, her remarks to the students were kind and beautiful, and they give us a real sense of who she is. She asks every single one of us to give of ourselves, and she graciously recognizes our efforts as we try. Praising Admiral Rochon, Chief Usher of the White House, and his staff abundantly while telling her young visitors that they can achieve whatever they dare dream and work hard for, she said:

“Like Barack and I, the Admiral didn’t rise to his position because of wealth or because he had a lot of material resources. See, we were all very much kids like you guys. We just figured out that one day that our fate was in our own hands. We made decisions to listen to our parents and to our teachers, and to work very, very hard for everything in life. And then we worked even harder any time anybody doubted us.”

She went on to add, “Each and every day the Admiral and his staff, who run this beautiful house, demonstrate the highest level of professionalism. It’s amazing to watch them. They do their jobs with pride and grace. And that’s one thing I hope that you all pick up, is the level of pride and grace that you put into anything you do. They work very hard to make the White House a warm family home and a great presidential residence commanding pride and respect throughout this country and around the world.”

She then turned to the students, ‘As President and First Lady, Barack and I are just the caretakers of this house. We’re just borrowing it for a little bit. But while we live here, we’re your neighbors, okay? And we want you to feel welcome here… it’s the people’s house that belongs to all of us. So just remember that, okay?’ The kids responded with okays.

“And as the people’s house, we believe the White House should be a place for learning and for sharing new and different ideas, sharing new forms of art and culture, and history and different perspectives. We want you to visit and we want you to take advantage of these opportunities and maybe see something for yourselves that maybe you never thought you could do or be….”

She closed her official remarks with a simple, I’m glad you guys are here.” See the full video here.

Michelle Obama Invited 180 D.C. Students to the White House in Her Effort to Open the White House to the Community

Michelle Obama Invited 180 D.C. Students to the White House in Her Effort to Open the White House to the Community.

In her role as First Lady, Michelle Obama will bring more light into the lives of all, particularly to those whose lives hold the least hope. Her strength comes through in her every move. And her caring. We can see glimpses of how she will assume the role of First Lady in her dealings with her family and her community. She’s always believed in the imperative of giving back to one’s community, and I think we are and will continue to see her reaching out to those who have only ever dreamed of meeting the First Lady, of being invited to visit her at the White House. Well, she says the ‘people’s house’ will be receiving a lot of visitors, not just dignitaries and legislators and lobbyists, but real people. Real children whose lives she can touch in a way that’s almost magical.

Besides hosting events at the White House, including the recent State Dinner, several parties for legislators, and the reception for the President’s signing of the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, among others, the First Lady has begun a round of visits to the agencies that keep the administration moving – she is listening to those who carry out the hard work behind her husband’s agenda and talking over with them the goals about which she feels the most urgency. Perhaps a reflection of her priorities, her first was to the Department of Education.

In addressing the staff, the First Lady praised Arne Duncan’s hard work and leadership, thanked the staff for the work they do, and talked of its importance, in keeping with her message of inclusiveness, hard work, responsibility and reward. “I think the most important thing to tell you or to remind you is that I am a product of your work. I’m a product of people who were investing every day in the education of regular kids who’d grown up on the south side of Chicago… — young people who oftentimes comes into these systems not knowing their own power and their own potential, believing that there’s some magic out there, to great things. But because of the work that you’ve put in, you’ve taught us and helped many of us understand that it is our own hard work and our own belief in self, our commitment to pushing ourselves along… 

I am a product of your work. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the public schools that nurtured me and helped me along. And I am committed, as well as my husband, to ensuring that more kids like us and kids around this country, regardless of their race, their income, their status, their — the property values in their neighborhoods, get access to an outstanding education.”

She then spoke of the improvements to education that will be made possible by President Obama’s stimulus plan to much applause and closed with a call for them to work hard and be proud of the work they do, saying last, “We need you and children count on you.”

And, she’s visited some D.C. folks, like when she stopped by Mary’s Center, a community health center in D.C.’s Adams Morgan neighborhood. At the end of her visit, she spoke with and took questions from a group of 9 teenagers, ranging in age from 16 to 18, who attend after school programs at the center, according to the Chicago Sun Times

One of the students asked “Why did you want to come out and meet us?” Her response, again, spoke to the same inclusive, hopeful call for responsibility and its rewards that is her message. She answered, “I was somewhat where you are. I didn’t come to this position with a lot of wealth and a lot of resources. I think it’s real important for young kids, particularly kids who come form communities without resources to see me. Not the First Lady but to see that there is no magic to me sitting here. There are no miracles that happen. There is no magic dust that was sprinkled on my head or Barack’s head. We were kids much like you who figured out one day that our fate was in our own hands. We made decisions to listen to our parents and work hard, and work even harder when somebody doubted us. When somebody told me I couldn’t do something, that gave me a greater challenge to prove them wrong. …Every little challenge like that and every little success I gained more confidence and life just sort of opened up. So I feel like it’s an obligation for me to share that with you.”

About her husband, Michelle Obama is honest in her assessments of his strengths and weaknesses and in her comments about his career and its impact on their family. In David Mendell’s Obama: From Promise to Power, she told of her frustration with the demands of his campaigning and its affect on their relationship and their family. Her biggest concerns were financial, so when he came seeking her approval for his 2004 Senate run, she asked him, “How are we going to afford this wonderful next step in your life?” He responded that he was going to write a book, ‘a good book,’ and she thought, “Snake eyes there buddy. Just write a book, yeah, that’s right. Yep, yep, yep. And you’ll climb up the beanstalk and come back down with the golden egg, Jack.” She eventually gave in, of course, telling him, ‘We’ll figure it out. We’re not hurting. Go ahead.” Then, laughing, she added hopefully, “And maybe you’ll lose.” But he didn’t lose, and so he was inaugurated and danced with his wife. So I’ll leave you with a final video, the President and First Lady dancing to Beyonce’s rendition of the Etta James great, “At Last.” Because they’re both cool.

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, attending the Neighborhood Ball dance on Inauguration Day to Beyonce's rendition of the Etta James great, "At Last."

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, attending the Neighborhood Ball dance on Inauguration Day to Beyonce



1. Liz Burke - February 27, 2009

They have brought back COOL to the White House. And a little sexytime.

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