USA Today shared this great article which I think really embodies who Michelle is.
Michelle Obama has some thoughts about how to succeed in politics.
The former first lady is not a fan of politics in general or certain politicians in particular, she makes clear in her blockbuster memoir, Becoming. The political process is messy and the costs were high for her family, her personal life, her professional ambitions.
“I didn’t much appreciate politicians and therefore didn’t relish the idea of my husband becoming one,” she writes. Before his breakthrough bid for the U.S. Senate from Illinois in 2004, she made him promise, out loud, that he’d leave politics altogether if he lost that race.
But he won the Senate campaign that year and the two White House campaigns that followed. His remarkable rise gave her a birds-eye view of politics as it’s played at the highest levels and for the greatest stakes. Her new book, being published Tuesday by Crown, offers some thoughts about what works.
Actually, the former Michelle Robinson had some experience with politics, local and presidential, before she ever met Barack Obama. Her father, Fraser Robinson, was a Chicago city worker, a job that carried the expectation he would volunteer as a Democratic precinct worker. One of her best friends at Whitney M. Young High School was Santita Jackson, the oldest child of the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984 and 1988.
Michelle Obama promises, persuasively, she will never follow in the footsteps of Hillary Clinton, a first lady-turned-presidential contender, and run for office herself.
That said, for the present, here are some of the lessons she’s learned.
Define yourself, or somebody else will
Fourteen words Michelle Obama said at a Milwaukee event during the opening stages of the 2008 primary campaign created a ferocious blow-back. “For the first time in my adult lifetime,” she said, “I’m really proud of my country.”
In her book, she quotes a fuller version of her unscripted remarks, which included a declaration that “hope is making a comeback” and the feeling that “people are hungry for change.” But critics used that key sentence to portray her as angry and disgruntled, as not really a patriot. It fed the “angry black woman” meme that she faced, to her frustration.
That stereotype was unfair and inaccurate, she thought, but it was still damaging. Campaign strategists David Axelrod and Valerie Jarrett staged what she later realized was an intervention, showing her clips of some of her public appearances. She realized she sometimes came across as too serious, too severe, which made it easier for opponents to portray her as “some sort of pissed-off harpy.”
She worked on conveying more warmth. “If you don’t get out there and define yourself,” she says, “you’ll be quickly and inaccurately defined by others.”
Pay attention to optics. But not always
Four months into his presidency, Barack and Michelle Obama shared a “date night” in New York, including dinner at a trendy Greenwich Village restaurant and tickets to a Broadway play. Before their Gulfstream 500 had landed back at Joint Base Andrews that night, though, the Republican Party had released a scathing critique about the cost to taxpayers for their evening out, and at a time the American economy and automakers were still in crisis from the 2008 financial meltdown.
“I already knew it would be a long time before we did anything like this again,” she writes, in what seems like a sigh. “Optics would always rule our lives.” At one point, when she wanted to get a new haircut with bangs, her staffers decided to first run that earth-shattering stylistic change by the West Wing, just in case.
That said, there are also times to defy the optics. A few months after the New York trip, she wanted to host a White House Halloween party for children. Axelrod, by then a senior White House adviser, and White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs opposed the idea as too showy, too costly. “The optics are just bad,” they told her.
The First Lady was not dissuaded. Axelrod and Gibbs never agreed, but they did give up fighting. A thousand-pound pumpkin was plopped on the South Lawn. A brass band of musicians dressed in skeleton costumes played jazz. A giant black spider hung from the North Portico. And more than 2,000 kids in costume — princesses, grim reapers, pirates, superheroes, ghosts, football players and more — lined up for small boxes of M&M’s emblazoned with the Seal of the President.
“As far as I was concerned, the optics were just right,” she writes.
Warning: Change is hard, and slow
That was a lesson she attributes to Nelson Mandela.
She met with the legendary South African leader during a trip to South Africa in 2011, as his health was failing. He had fought apartheid for decades, including imprisonment, to eventually see a new government take root. Change happens slowly, “not in two years, four years, or even a lifetime,” she writes. “We were planting seeds of change, the fruit of which we might never see. We had to be patient.”
Progress rarely follows a straight line, she notes, and it’s more likely to come in inches than by leaps and bounds.
“[Osama] bin Laden was gone, but ISIS had arrived,” she writes in summing up the Obamas’ years in the White House. Childhood obesity rates seemed to be leveling off, her special cause, but the murder rate in her hometown of Chicago was rising, and not even the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School propelled gun legislation through Congress.
Even Obama’s landmark election itself, and the election of Donald Trump as his successor, offered an object lesson in the need for patience and persistence.
“Our presence in the White House had been celebrated by millions of Americans, but it also contributed to a reactionary sense of fear and resentment among others,” a hatred that was “old and deep and as dangerous as ever,” she writes. “We lived with it as a family, and we lived with it as a nation. And we carried on, as gracefully as we could.”