Too soon, too soon, of course.
After observing close-up the kind of headwinds her husband has met in Washington, D.C., and beyond, there is absolutely no indication that first lady Michelle Obama is looking to place her own name on any ballot. She has, in fact, said the opposite, although in his just-released book, Michelle Obama: A Life, veteran journalist Peter Slevin reports that she has always been a full partner in her husband’s political career. But it is significant that former first lady, U.S. Sen. and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has hired Michelle Obama’s former communications chief as Clinton enters her bid for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.
With approval ratings that have always surpassed her husband’s and ovations over everything from her Let’s Move! campaign to her Tonight Show dance-offs with host Jimmy Fallon, Obama’s image is one to envy and emulate.
According to reports, Clinton plans to go small in her campaign this time around, emphasizing personality and connection with voters.
If Obama followed Clinton’s path, from first lady to political candidate, she would start out with loads of goodwill. Would she ever be tempted to test that popularity? At a luncheon event during 2014’s National Association of Black Journalists convention in Boston, Harvard Law School professor Charles Ogletree, who mentored both Barack and Michelle Obama when they were students there, made his own pitch for the first lady’s next career move. While he acknowledged her desire to stay far away from the fray, he deemed President Obama the second-best politician living in the White House.
Though she has been shielded from some of the roughest charges thrown the president’s way, as first lady, Michelle Obama has withstood a fair amount of attacks—personal and political—from both liberals and conservatives. She has been criticized for her work touting healthy eating, her choice not to conform to some feminists’ ideas and even her very body. But like early efforts to tag her as an “angry black woman,” none of the charges have seemed to stick.
As an officeholder, she would be fighting increasingly vicious partisan bickering, but she would also benefit from a ready-made platform of issues that she has worked on in the White House, from childhood obesity to support for military families. The cameras already show up whenever and wherever she’s around.
When she and President Obama took a brief stroll on Washington’s streets during the 2009 inauguration parade, deciding to leave their car to walk and wave on that sunny, frigid day, people climbed over one another to catch a glimpse. When I interviewed workers at a North Carolina truck plant, reacting to a presidential visit in 2012, Molly Costner had not yet made up her mind about her vote in that year’s election, but she was a fan of the first lady, proclaiming her so down-to-earth that she would be the kind of friend you would invite on a shopping trip.
“I think she’s beautiful and classy,” she said.
Michelle Obama has admittedly had the benefit of distance from the hands-on work of policymaking. If she were to declare intentions for a political future, she might see her approval ratings drop, as Hillary Clinton has in her runs for the presidency.
But one wonders whether, after a long vacation, time to write her own memoirs and a chance to focus even more parental attention on two growing daughters, she would be tempted to run for public office. This is neither suggestion nor endorsement—just a citizen floating an idea that writers would devour.
The new book, done without interviews with Obama, will only increase speculation over the first lady, who has shown that she has a personality that wears well—approachable with a sense of humor and fun.
Plus, we know she can dance better than Jimmy Fallon.
Mary C. Curtis is a Roll Call columnist and contributor to NPR and NBCBLK. She has worked at the New York Times, the Baltimore Sun, the Charlotte Observer and Politics Daily and as a contributor to the Washington Post. She is a senior facilitator for the OpEd Project at Cornell and Yale universities. Follow her on Twitter.