Is Michelle Obama 'Supportive' but Anxious?

An article adapted from a book on the Obama White House portrays a fierce advocate for the president.

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The Obamas (Getty Images)

All eyes will be on a book on the Obama White House, coming out on Tuesday. Titled The Obamas, the tome is said to focus on behind-the-scenes relationships at the highest level within the White House, including the dynamic within the first couple. Author Jodi Kantor wrote an article that was adapted from the book for yesterday's edition of the New York Times.

"Michelle Obama and the Evolution of a First Lady" portrays Mrs. Obama as a fierce, if often anxious, advocate for her husband's interests who was initially ambivalent about life in the public spotlight. It shows a first lady who is acutely aware that she faces extra scrutiny as the first African-American presidential spouse. And like many of President Obama's supporters, she has had concerns that his top advisers weren't serving him well, according to Kantor.

Fully behind her husband's re-election campaign, Mrs. Obama nonetheless believes there are times that his administration should put vision above political expediency. "She does think there are worse things than losing an election," her former chief of staff is quoted as saying. "Being true to yourself, for her, is definitely more important." 

The Michelle Obama of January 2012 is an expert motivator and charmer, a champion of safe causes like helping military families and ending childhood obesity, an increasingly canny political player eager to pour her popularity into her husband's re-election campaign. But interviews with more than 30 current and former aides, as well as some of the first couple's closest friends, conducted for "The Obamas," a new book, show that she has been an unrecognized force in her husband's administration and that her story has been one first of struggle, then turnaround and greater fulfillment.

Mrs. Obama is a supportive but often anxious spouse, suspicious of conventional political thinking, a groundbreaking figure who has acutely felt the pressures and possibilities of being the first African-American in her position and a first lady who has worked to make her role more meaningful.

She doesn't brook any nonsense when it comes to how her husband's administration is being handled, writes Kantor. It sounds as if she has needed to be tough in order to deal with some of his advisers.

New to the ways of Washington but impassioned about what her husband had been elected to do, she saw herself as a guardian of values. She was sometimes harder on her husband's team than he was, eventually urging him to replace them, and the tensions grew so severe that one top adviser erupted in a meeting in 2010, cursing the absent first lady.

"She has very much got his back," said David Axelrod, Mr. Obama's longtime strategist, in an interview. "When she thinks things have been mishandled or when things are off the track," he continued, "she'll raise it, because she's hugely invested in him and has a sense of how hard he's working, and wants to make sure everybody is doing their work properly."

If this portrayal is true, then the first lady is giving the president the crucial reality checks that any president needs. He'll need that candor, and her popularity with the political base, in order to secure victory in November.

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Sept. 19 2014 8:34 AM