Michelle Obama Comes Into Her Own

The first lady's DNC speech may have ended the "angry black woman" notions that used to haunt her.

Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images
Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

(The Root) — Back in 2008 the media didn’t know how to feel about the then-candidate’s wife, Michelle Obama. She was portrayed simultaneously as too militant, too angry, too unpatriotic, too deprecating of her husband or too hard. Just too much.

Which is why, according to media reports at the time, she first laid the groundwork as a “down-to-earth mom,” prepping the country for her most recognizable coinage, the term “mom-in-chief” in a US Weekly cover story. Also part of Obama’s rebranding was a gig co-hosting The View in June 2008, a pivotal moment in a campaign focused on “softening” the future first lady. She opened that TV appearance by fist-bumping all the women at the table including Elisabeth Hasselbeck, the show’s resident Republican.

Later, when discussing how the media had misjudged her as angry and militant, Obama got serious: “People aren’t used to strong women; we don’t know how to talk about them.”

Oh, my, how times have changed. Now the popular line about one of the most well-liked first ladies to occupy the White House is that she’s all about passion, according to Erik Wemple of the Washington Post. In his column, he mentions how the Charlotte Observer called Obama’s speech “impassioned.” Meanwhile, the New York Daily News wrote that “the first lady seized the primetime moment, sounding confident, heartfelt and politically wholesome as she delivered an impassioned defense of her spouse.” Even all the way across the pond, “passion” was the word of the day, with the UK Guardian writing that “Michelle Obama’s passionate speech urges voters to renew their vows.”

What happened to her being “unpatriotic”? Have the first lady’s former detractors been permanently silenced by her near pitch-perfect performance on Tuesday?

Even New York Times writer Jodi Kantor, whose biography of the first family, titled The Obamas, drew criticism from Mrs. Obama, conceded that Obama’s opening address marked a “new point in her remarkable transformation from a Chicago hospital executive who openly called politics a waste of time to a hugely popular first lady and polished political communicator considered essential to her husband’s re-election efforts.”

Soon after Kantor’s book was published in January 2012, Obama told Oprah Winfrey’s bestie, Gayle King, in a CBS This Morning interview that she was tired of being pigeonholed. “I guess it’s more interesting to imagine this conflicted situation here and a strong woman — you know,” explained Obama, who at the time had admittedly not read The Obamas. “But that’s been an image that people have tried to paint of me since the day Barack announced [his candidacy in 2008]: that I’m some angry black woman.”