Sunday, August 31, 2008



Sunday Standard Magazine
August 31, 2008
By Sunday Magazine Writer

Whenever she is asked to, Michelle Obama is known to describe herself, first and foremost, as the mother of her two daughters, Malia and Sasha.

In the early days of the campaign, when asked what her priorities as First Lady would be, she said her only cause would be giving her children a decent upbringing in the White House.

She never used to expound on her husband’s five-point plans; she just told her story of family, work, sacrifice, aspiration…

On the campaign trail, her tribute to her father has been known to bring a crowd to tears. It is the story she took to the Convention floor in Denver on Monday.

Michelle’s father, Fraser Robinson, struck with multiple sclerosis, went to work on crutches; he never was late, never gave up and never complained and managed to put two children through Princeton.

"My father, like most Americans, just wanted to know that after a lifetime of hard work and sacrifice, one day he would put his feet up and look over all that he had done and retire with a little respect and dignity," she told Time. "That’s what most Americans want."

But by the time Michelle took the stage in Denver on Monday, the stakes were a lot higher than raising Malia and Sasha and telling the story of the struggles of her father.

She had the burden of the entire Democratic Party and her husband’s campaign.

In Denver, Michelle was tasked with initiating a four-day introduction of her husband, and her family, on her terms.

Her party was facing a number of imperatives at the convention, none trickier than making more voters comfortable with the prospect of putting the son of a black Kenyan father and a white Kansan mother, who grew up in Hawaii and Indonesia — and his family in the White House.

The candidate’s advisers believed that no one makes the case better for Senator Barack Obama than his wife.

Michelle was here to tell the story of a man she initially refused to date.

Time reported in May that Michelle at first refused to date Mr Obama, feeling their work relationship would make a romance improper.

Few family members

Obama, because of his background, has few family members who can serve as surrogates.
So on Monday night, Michelle’s family filled the stage and screen to take care of what was missing in the husband’s lineage.

Her basketball-coach brother, Craig Robinson; her homemaker-turned-secretary mother, Marian; and the memory of her father, Frasier were there.

She described her husband as "the same man who drove me and our new baby daughter home from the hospital 10 years ago this summer."

She described him as "inching along at a snail’s pace, peering anxiously at us in the rear-view mirror, feeling the whole weight of her future in his hands."

According to a report in The New York Times, since she left her job as a hospital administrator to campaign and care for her daughters, some feminist critics have complained that Mrs Obama sacrificed her own work for her husband’s.

"But from the very start, the Obama marriage was a kind of professional symbiosis, a partnership between two passionately ambitious people who found they could rise higher in the world together than alone," the paper said.

Political mountain

The partnership between Barack and Michelle Obama, The Washington Post reported, has been essential to his fast rise up the political mountain.

"There were moments when his ambition and long stretches away from the family got to her, especially when their daughters were younger.

The Democratic nominee-in-waiting has recalled times when, as a state legislator, he would return home and be lucky to get more than a lukewarm peck on the cheek," the paper said this week. On Monday night, the would-be first black first lady in the US took the stage for herself, "not just to reaffirm how wonderful her husband is, and what a fine president he would make, but also to redefine herself," according to The Post.

Before mounting the podium, the paper said, she gathered herself backstage in a holding room near the lockers of Denver’s professional hockey team.

"Big moments demand big performances, and she seemed determined not to let the occasion rattle her, but to soar above it."

When it was finally her turn to address the convention delegates, she described herself as a sister, a mom, a wife and a daughter, someone who loves her country and has tried to give back to it.

One day, she told the crowd, her children’s children and future generations will tell the story of "how this time we listened to our hopes, instead of our fears. How this time, we decided to stop doubting and to start dreaming".

Her two daughters tried to steal the show when their mother was done, telling their daddy, who appeared in the hall via video conference, that Mommy had done great. And that they loved him.

Throughout the campaign, Michelle has rarely talked about how instrumental she has been to launching her husband’s political career.

According to a report in Time magazine, from almost the earliest days of their personal and professional partnership, Obama’s political aspirations have guided Michelle’s path.


At the end of 1989, Obama was an intern at Sidley Austin, a prestigious Chicago law firm that also happened to employ a young intellectual-property lawyer and Harvard Law graduate named Michelle Robinson.

Obama was offered a permanent job at Sidley, though senior partner Newton Minow wasn’t surprised when he turned the firm down; the two had often discussed the intern’s political plans, and Minow had pledged to help Obama in his pursuit of a place in public life.

But Obama didn’t just turn the firm down. Minow, a former Federal Communication Commission chairman, recalls that Obama told him to take a seat: "You may not want to help me after you hear the rest of what I’ve got to say. I’m taking Michelle with me."

"You no good, worthless . . . " Minnow said, jumping up angrily.

"Hold it," Obama said, raising a hand.

"We’re going to get married."

Most women might not appreciate their boyfriend’s effectively giving notice on their behalf.

Michelle, though, didn’t seem to mind, according to the Time report.

Not only were they engaged a year later, but sure enough, Michelle surprised her family and friends and left the law firm to go into public service.

The child of Marian and Fraser Robinson, a stay-at-home mother and a city pump operator, Michelle was raised in a close-knit family that ate every meal together, played Monopoly and read together.

"Nobody emphasised public service. What was emphasised was doing what you love to do and you’ll be good at whatever you do," Craig, her brother, told Time.

According to the magazine, Michelle’s father was shocked when she left the law firm and asked: "Don’t you want to pay your student loans?"

Mayor’s office

Her move into public service saw her serve at the mayor’s office, which gave her and her husband, access to Chicago’s political class.

"Michelle’s job gave her husband entrÈe into the best political machine in Illinois, augmenting her ties to Jackson’s powerful civil rights group, Rainbow Push. Her being from Chicago, from the Southside of Chicago, was an asset to Barack in terms of enhancing his ties to the community."

The division of responsibilities in the Obama household, however, hasn’t always been a laughing matter, Time reported.

In his second book, The Audacity of Hope, Obama talks about Michelle’s rage at his ever increasing absence.

"My wife’s anger toward me seemed barely contained. ‘You only think about yourself,’ she would tell me. ‘I never thought I’d have to raise a family alone’."

Michelle may have envisioned giving her children the idyllic childhood that she’d had, the magazine wrote, "but she had to know that Obama was far from a city pump operator with regular hours, nor did she show any real inclination to be a stay-at-home mom."