The Real Prize

Why Obama's wife makes me love him more.

AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images

Yes, yes, I know damn well, in my higher self, that there are better reasons for liking Barack.

His cleareyed intelligence, for one thing. His broad and nonparochial perspective of the world. His preparation, his education, his politics. I like that Obama forwent a lucrative career in corporate America to work with the folks in Chicago. I even like the fact that the man can write, and I mean write, although as a writer who struggles daily to do the work, I kind of hate that too: this talented dabbler, this massively successful dilettante.

But, if I’m honest, I must admit that none of those fine attributes are what tipped me over from Obama admiration to Obama love. It was something else, something entirely personal, something deeply revealing, if not about the man then certainly about me. It was Michelle Obama—or, more particularly, his choice of her as wifely material.

Barack chose Michelle. He chose one of us, and I am thrilled.

The first time I saw Michelle Obama I thought, oddly, of a line from Ntozake Shange’s epic choreopoem For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When The Rainbow Is Enuf:

brown braided woman
with big legs and full lips

Of course, Michelle Obama is tall and regal and utterly self-possessed. She owns a smile to nearly rival her husband’s and waves those long, slender fingers about like a classical pianist. She carries more talent, clarity, deep self-knowledge, and openness of heart in the left eyelash she lost unnoticed yesterday than any woman on the trail. The notion that this woman is “reglar” is, prima facie, absurd.

But there you go. I look at Michelle Obama, and I see—at least not at first—not the strength of her character nor her fierce intelligence nor even her Ivy League degree, but the plain and plainly striking fact that she in no way resembles either Halle Berry or Heidi Klum. She more favors my friend Damita. She reminds me of my sister Michelle. She looks like me.

What does this say about Michelle Obama? Not a thing, of course. About her husband? Perhaps more so.