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August 26, 2008


Listening to Michelle Obama last night, I thought about a conversation we had in October 2006. I hesitate to report it because I am a strong critic of the kind of politics that prizes personal interactions with leaders--as if other citizens cannot make good judgments based on the public record. Besides, no one should rely on the accuracy or fairness of a reporter, a staffer, or someone else who gets close to the famous--even if he gains access by accident, which is what happened to me.

On the other hand, Mrs. Obama made a strongly positive impression on me, and it has been seriously bothering me to see her misrepresented over the last six months. This is not only unfair to her as an individual; it also has consequences for women. Because she has been presented as an angry and challenging figure, she is going to have to compensate by coming across as completely nice. That will circumscribe her ability to lead.

The irony is that I found her very nice, indeed. She was the moderator of a panel at Campus Compact's 20th Anniversary gala. I was a panelist, and we chatted for maybe 10 minutes as we waiting to go onstage. She seemed somewhat tired--short of sleep and exercise because of her demanding job, her two kids, and her husband's constant travel. But she didn't complain; this came up in the context of a dialog about being parents, in which she focused on my life as much as hers.

She professed not to feel at all comfortable in the glamorous DC scene. I smiled inwardly a bit, because she and her husband were already the most glamorous couple in town--she wasn't going to have to stand by the cheese platter at a cocktail party, hoping someone would talk to her. But I took her insecurity as completely genuine, because she presented it as a shared problem. Neither of us would feel comfortable at a glitzy reception, she seemed to be saying--even though she would be mobbed by admirers and job-seekers whereas I would be very surprised to be admitted.

Above all, I remember talking about kids. I've got a daughter who falls right between Sasha and Malia Obama in age. Whatever you may think about having a First Lady who is thoroughly committed to her own children, Michelle Obama is that person.

August 26, 2008 8:52 AM | category: none


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