President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

(The Root) — Between the ongoing diplomatic crisis in Syria and the conservative war currently being waged on Obamacare, it would be safe to assume that President Obama's biggest fears extend far beyond 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. But according to his own words, that assumption would not necessarily be correct.

Unbeknownst to the president, a microphone captured his private conversation at the United Nations in New York City, where world leaders have gathered for the General Assembly today, Sept. 24. On the recording, the president ribs U.N. official Maina Kiai about his smoking habit, and then Obama says that he hasn't had a cigarette in six years, explaining, "That's because I'm scared of my wife." The president can then be seen breaking into a wide grin before letting out a laugh. The lighthearted moment perfectly encapsulates why Americans have had such a love affair with the Obamas, namely because their love affair seems so much less like your usual political power marriage of convenience and more like two people who love each other, like each other and have ended up on one hell of a ride together.

What's so charming about the president's confession is it shows that despite being the leader of the free world, he is not afraid to admit that there is at least one place where he knows he is not in charge, and like a lot of men, that place is his home. For all of the rumors about the president having an oversized ego, this exchange is a reminder that at least one person knows how to keep his ego in check.

Michelle Obama had been credited with keeping him grounded long before he won the White House. She earned some criticism early on the campaign trail for criticizing her husband's habit of not picking up his dirty socks, an anecdote that some viewed as unpresidential. But while traditional political consultants, handlers and advisers may see such confessions as too revealing, for Americans outside the Beltway bubble, such confessions simply reinforced that this couple really isn't so different from most couples, with the exception of each partner's extraordinary professional accomplishments. 

The relatability of the Obamas as a family played a key role in the president's re-election. Polls showed that his likability, bolstered in large part by his family, inoculated him against much of the disenchantment some voters had with his economic policy. Making Michelle Obama's role as one of her husband's greatest assets even more noteworthy is that there was once a time when she was seen as a potential hindrance — a time when Michelle Obama was overshadowed by the caricature of Michelle Obama as angry black woman, a caricature that she has called out and condemned.


Michelle Obama's image evolution is part of what makes the president's recent remarks so endearing. His wife was once seen as the angry black woman. Now she is seen as one of the White House's most popular and influential occupants — so influential that she can instill fear in the leader of the free world. And so popular that many of us — regardless of political persuasion — think that's just great. 

Keli Goff is The Root’s special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter