Michelle Obama knows dedication when she sees it.
Sure, it’s shown on t-shirts worn by her supporters, donning phrases like “when they go low, we go high” and “it’s harder to hate up close.” It’s seen as feet tap and heads bop before the show, onlookers full of anticipation and encouraged by a Stevie Wonder hook.
And it’s certainly displayed when a roaring ovation welcomes her into the room.
But, spending her Sunday night in conversation at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Obama understands her crowd made a different sacrifice to be at the Mother Church.
“Do you see how much these people love you?” moderator and CBS “Late Show” host Stephen Colbert quipped. “They’re missing ‘Game of Thrones’ to be here tonight.”
Yes, it takes a former first lady to peel some away from the penultimate episode of an HBO epic.
“Believe me, I have a daughter, my youngest, Sasha, who’s a ‘Game of Thrones’ fan … they surprised me and they came here, my two girls,” Obama said. “And Sasha said, ‘You know I love you because I’m missing ‘Game of Thrones,’ so, yes. I understand the sacrifice.”
Obama appeared in Music City to support of her 2018 memoir, “Becoming.” The conversation between the south side Chicago native and Colbert wrapped a 34-date world tour supporting the book, a run that brought the wife of former President Barack Obama to arenas in London, Stockholm, Amsterdam and across the United States.
A sold-out engagement, Obama’s night at the Ryman proved the most intimate venue on an evening billed globally as an “intimate conversation” about the book that’s sold an estimated 10 million copies since being released last November.
Discussing “Becoming” for 80 minutes, the conversation traveled from Mother’s Day to her final minutes inside the White House to what could be next for the Obama family.
Colbert opened the night with a jokingly “hardball” question about Mother’s Day in the Obama house (it’s a “low-key” day, Obama said) before turning to Obama’s relationship with her mother, Marian Robinson and two daughters, Malia and Sasha Obama.
Obama credited her mother for raising her and her brother, Craig Robinson, as individuals; she didn’t stifle her “feisty” daughter — a trait Obama said she embraced in raising her daughters.
“She wanted to hear our voices; she wanted to hear our ideas,” Obama said. “She allowed us to ask questions. There was never anything that was off limits. She fed our curiously — she rewarded it.”
And Obama said she wanted to be level-headed when raising daughters in the White House, pushing staff to not do children’s chores.
“I had to beg the housekeepers … these girls have to learn how to clean their own rooms and make their beds and do their laundry,” Obama said. “Because they will not live here forever and I am not raising kids that don’t know how to make a bed.”
Leaving the White House
Obama outlined her final hours at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. as a teary, chaotic mess, due mostly to her daughters insisting on hosting one more sleepover before the family moved.
“All the transition happens in the matter of a day,” Obama said. “ … so that last day’s busy. But, of course, when you have kids, what do they want? A sleepover. You realize all their friends had grown up there, too.”
The kids woke up “a little too slow,” Obama said, leading her to rush the group down an elevator before President Trump’s arrival.
“Everybody’s crying because it’s the last day and it’s emotional,” Obama said. “We’re saying goodbye and people are crying and the staff’s crying and I’m thinking I gotta get myself together because if I walk out that door in tears they’re going to think I’m crying because of the Trumps.”
The conversation drifted slightly into political lanes, with Obama describing advice to potential presidential spouses (“When power’s involved, nothing’s off limits, sadly, and you have to prepare yourself for that,” she said) and her frustration with pundits.
“In the first videos, where you see me coming to the ‘Colbert Show,’ going on ‘Ellen,’ going on ‘Sesame Street,’(it’s) because I realized no one’s listening to [the pundits], so let me not listen to them. Let me go where people actually are,” she said.
In “Becoming,” Obama criticizes President Trump for promoting a “birther” conspiracy that questioned President Obama’s citizenship. She described Trump’s “birther” campaign against her husband as containing “loud and reckless innuendo” as well as being “crazy and mean spirited.”
Colbert asked: “What made you decide to weigh in when so many other first ladies have declined?”
Trump’s accusations put her family at risk, Obama replied. She felt an obligation to express the fear his accusations cause.
“The point is that words matter,” she said. “It was important for me to say that to everybody in the country as we think about our political candidates — this isn’t a game.”
She continued: “I just wanted to tell some people this isn’t a joke and when you make stuff up and you know you’re making stuff up … it can cost my children their life. It can cost them their father. We as a country have to understand (that) these are people.”
“You are still young” Colbert said, “what do you see yourself becoming next?”
Chants of “president” cut through the room.
“If you read the book you will know why I will never be president,” she replied.
Instead, Obama said she plans to invest in the “next generation,” mentoring young political hopefuls.
“We don’t want to keep sitting in the seats of leadership,” she said. “We want to make room for the next.”