(The Root)—In less than three months, President Barack Obama will celebrate the anniversary of being sworn in for his second term as president. Although many conservatives are looking ahead with anticipation to the end of his final term in office, many liberals are looking ahead with the hope that in his final years as commander in chief, the president might begin pushing a more aggressively progressive agenda.
Then there are those of us who are hoping that in the president’s final term, we might get to see the Michelle Obama we haven’t seen since the early days of the 2008 presidential campaign.
Though she now enjoys an approval rating much higher than her husband’s (his is currently at an all-time low, while hers consistently hovers in the 60s), that was not the case on the campaign trail five years ago.
Voters had trouble connecting with the nearly 6-foot-tall lawyer-turned-hospital executive, who campaigned in her power suits. When she made a clumsily worded remark about being proud of her country following her husband’s early primary win, her image took a hit, and the makeover of Michelle Obama began in earnest. Gone were the power suits, replaced by the pastel cardigans and floral prints we are all used to seeing today. And gone was the woman the Rev. Al Sharpton once described in a New York magazine article as follows:
“Sharpton thinks Obama should take more cues from his wife, Michelle. He still thinks about the time he bumped into her at a recent Chicago fund-raiser. He claims the conversation went like this.
‘How you doing, Mrs. Obama?’
She’s tall, and looked down at him. ‘I’d do a lot better if we had your endorsement.’
Sharpton tried to play dumb. ‘What do you mean?’
‘We need your endorsement. I’m just telling you straight out: We need your endorsement. What are you going to do?’
Sharpton didn’t know what to say. ‘I’m like, ‘Uh, well, duh.’ I mean, she was like a sister back in Brownsville, where I grew up!’”
But Americans haven’t gotten a glimpse of that Michelle Obama in nearly five years. So here is a list of what some of us Michelle Obama fans would like to hear from her now that she no longer has to worry about her public image as a super-strong, super-fierce black woman who might cost her husband votes.
1. “A lot of the criticism of my husband is racist.”
One of the reasons President Obama was able to win election twice is the ease with which he downplayed the role of racism during his campaigns. During the 2008 election, he tended to dismiss the fact that he might lose votes because of his race, treating it as no more worth considering than losing votes for any number of superficial reasons, like his large ears he often jokes about.
But we know better. We know that while not all of the criticism directed at the president is racially motivated, some of it is. We are not the only ones. His wife knows it, too. But so far she’s been too politically savvy to really go there out loud. But now that they are in their final term, it would be refreshing if she did.
2. “I care about issues besides healthy eating, gardening and water.”
A first lady’s platform is often what defines her legacy. (Think Nancy Reagan and “Just say no!”) Although childhood obesity is a serious issue, as is healthy drinking water, there are other issues that matter and about which the first lady could make a difference. Some of them are controversial. For instance, President Obama made waves in 2008 when he explained that part of why he supports reproductive rights is that “I've got two daughters. 9 years old and 6 years old. I am going to teach them first of all about values and morals. But if they make a mistake, I don't want them punished with a baby.”
Michelle Obama is also on the record as supporting reproductive rights in recent years as Planned Parenthood has been under attack, but she has waded into the issue only tepidly. With African-American and poor women more likely to have unplanned pregnancies and out-of-wedlock births and to raise families in poverty—not to mention the high AIDS rates among black Americans—her voice could go a long way toward making a difference on issues of reproductive and sexual health.
If only she’d use it more.
3. “I want to see a black woman on the Supreme Court.”
It was widely reported that former first lady Laura Bush played a role in convincing her husband to consider nominating a woman, attorney Harriet Miers, to the Supreme Court. Though Miers ended up withdrawing from consideration, the first lady’s private advocacy on her behalf was a reminder of the often quiet power that a first lady can wield.
There have been two African-American male Supreme Court justices (Thurgood Marshall and now Clarence Thomas), and Sonia Sotomayor became the court’s first Latina justice. But so far there has not been a black female justice. It would be nice to see one (who is qualified, of course) before the first black president leaves office. (Here is a helpful list of possible black female nominees for the president and his team to reference in case they need ideas.) Here’s hoping the first lady uses her behind-the-scenes influence the same way the previous first lady tried to use hers.
4. “Sometimes I’m an angry black woman, and I have every right to be.”
During an interview with Gayle King about a controversial book about her marriage, the first lady responded, “I guess it's just more interesting to imagine this conflicted situation here. That's been an image people have tried to paint of me since the day Barack announced, that I'm some kind of angry black woman."
Well, guess what; Michelle Obama has more than a few reasons to be angry—from the National Rifle Association pulling her children into a political fight, to endless lies and racially charged language aimed at her and her family. Is Michelle Obama a black female stereotype? Hardly. But does she have a right to occasionally get angry, as all of us do? Absolutely.
5. “Here’s what I really think of … ”
Everybody from Ted Cruz to Sarah Palin to Bill Clinton. There are so many Barack Obama critics for whom we all know Michelle Obama has some choice words behind closed doors. Although she will likely save the really juicy stuff for her memoirs, it would be nice to see a teaser in her final year in the White House. If nothing else, could she at least tell us why she really rolled her eyes at John Boehner?
Keli Goff is The Root's special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter.
Keli Goff is The Root’s special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter.