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Reading Michelle Obama
First lady Michelle Obama arrives to take part in the groundbreaking of the White House Kitchen Garden on the South Lawn of the White House with students from Washington's Bancroft Elementary, Friday, March 20, 2009, at the White House in Washington. (AP)

First lady Michelle Obama arrives to take part in the groundbreaking of the White House Kitchen Garden on the South Lawn of the White House with students from Washington's Bancroft Elementary, Friday, March 20, 2009, at the White House in Washington. (AP)

Presidents lead. But First Spouses — First Ladies, in our history — matter, too. The set a tone. Project an image. Personify values. And come with their own ideas.

First Lady Michelle Obama has lived in the White House for 63 days now. She is like — and unlike — every First Lady before her. At her husband’s side. Making the White House a home. Sitting for her portrait – sleeveless, like Jackie Kennedy and Mamie Eisenhower.

And digging in, as an African-American, in the spotlight, to what she calls one of “the best jobs in the world.”

This hour, On Point: We’re reading Michelle Obama in the White House.

You can join the conversation. How’s she doing? What are you watching — her fashion statements? Her policy statements? And how do the new First Lady’s image, character, personality, ideas, attitudes matter to the country? To you?


From Washington, we’re joined by Liza Mundy, staff writer for The Washington Post Magazine and author of “Michelle: A Biography.”

Joining us from New York is Margo Jefferson. A longtime cultural critic for The New York Times, she’s a professor of writing at the New School and Columbia University, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for criticism in 1995, and author of “On Michael Jackson.” A few of her thoughts on Michelle Obama appeared in last week’s issue of New York magazine in a collection of essays, “Regarding Michelle Obama.”

Also from New York is David Samuels, contributing editor at Harper’s Magazine and a contributor to The Atlantic and The New Yorker.  He also wrote an essay on Michelle Obama for last week’s issue of New York. He’s the author of “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” and “The Runner: A True Account of the Amazing Lies and Fantastical Adventures of the Ivy League Impostor James Hogue.”

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  • http://wbur Noadna from Washington DC

    Let me be the first to say, I am thrilled to have such a caring, articulate, and sensitive First Lady in the White House. This is not to say that other First Ladies did not have these attributes, but other First Ladies did not exhibit such grace in the face of a country in total turmoil. She is the calm port in the storm and I am glad she maintains her own sense of self. I can only hope she is able to retain this sensibility, whether she remains at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for 4 years or 8 years. Thanks for being a fabulous role model, Michelle!

  • Mary Horowitz

    Michelle Obama has the capability of being the modern-day Eleanor Roosevelt, who was the most effective and important first lady in history and a woman who made a significant difference in the history of this country. She also has the glamour and charisma of Jackie Kennedy, which can’t hurt.

  • Lilya Lopekha

    We have a Job for our beloved Michelle

    She should be the champion of new homeless families (and single people, too) who became homeless due to the Morgage Scam/Fraud. Everynight before going to bed, she should remind Barack the stories of [red-zoned] people who lost their life savings to Mortgage Brokers’ deceptive lies and to Wall Street Execs who acquired mansions after mantions.

    Those hardworking (jobless now) people are carrying their entire life, in tears, to the side walk under supervision of constables; while the Foreclosure officer is watching in his parked car. Family after family. These people have to be reminded of and be represented to Obama everynight while he is dealing with Rahm’s, Paulson’s and Geithner’s appointed, well connected and heartless friends during the day.

    During the last four years:
    CEO of Countrywide Mortgage took in $400 million in 4 years. CEO of Lehman Brothers $350 million. CEO of Goldman $420 million. Where did this massive Transfer of Wealth come from?

    What do you think? Should we hire Michelle for this job?

  • robert stefanowicz

    Is there a contra to this lovefest? What is the point of this discussion or shall we all bow and worship?

  • Sarah E.

    I think Michelle is fantastic! She really seems to get the work/family balance that was being discussed and the health issues that are facing our children. My husband and I plant a garden every year, and I smile every time I think about the White House garden. The White House looks much more like my own house with the swing set and the garden and that makes it seem much more accessible. I think Michelle is responsible for that.

  • Ken Hall

    I am exceedingly glad that Barrack and Michelle Obama are President and First Lady; however, if Michelle did not see any Americans who wanted handouts while she was on the campaign trail she must not have been looking in the right places. Want a hint, check out the obscenely wealthy their hands are in the pockets of the “little people” all the way to their shoulders.

  • K. Sayre

    Currently, the idea of Michelle Obama as an ‘angry black woman’ is being discussed. I ask this, why shouldn’t she be angry? If she is angry, I don’t see it as being angry because she is black, or because she is a woman. She is angry because she is an American and right now we have a lot to be angry about. It is a shame that a portion of the populace will jump on constructive anger and use it against her. A double standard still exists in our society; women (and especially black woman) cannot appear angry without being heavily criticized. It is time to put it to rest.

  • Marie Ricketts

    One of the guests just made a comment about “does the first family really need to get a rescue dog?”

    The fact that they have acknowledged the need for, and the existence of, rescue in this country is huge! Clearly your guest does not understand the issue.

    This is just one more thing that the Obamas are doing right in contrast to the previous administrations.

  • Lilya Lopekha

    Yeah, it is great that Michelle is promoting Veggies and “Work”/Family issues.

    But for the most needy, minority neighborhoods with boarded-up properties and 50 inch pot-holes these values are no longer on the agenda.

    With 23% unemployment in Detroit, there isn’t a problem with Veggies (not affordable) and Work/Family balance, because there is No Work.

    We Love Michelle, but we can Love her more if she represents the unrepresented. If she does not do that, the only representation there is a few ladies wearing pink and being yelled at, like kids, all the time by Congressional Committee Chairs.

    Wake up Folks! The only thing we can do against this Injustice to Wear Pink?

  • C. Goodrich

    She seems to be a genuinely good person. Some people like Robert, might resent that, but there is no getting around it. She has done more in sixty days than Laura Bush did in eight years. I don’t recall a single thing the Bush woman did for the country besides smile and be arm candy. I get the feeling it will be a hard slog for Mrs. Obama and that she will be more than equal to the task.

  • Doug M.

    Unlike some, I was _favorably_ impressed by Michelle’s quoted remark that her husband’s candidacy finally gave her something to be proud of about America. Forthright, articulate, highly intelligent, and above all, critical based on authentic values: traits that have been missing in and near from the Oval Office in recent years.

  • Pamela

    As a wife & mom and a professional African American woman, I was initially surprised that some people perceived her as angry. Then, I recognized the tactic of painting Mrs. Obama as an “angry Black radical”. I worried that this perception would stick. Her upbringing mirrors mine and many other African American women in many ways. We are not angry but rather grateful for the opportunities given and sacrifices made by our parents and families that make us the women we are today. I’ve often believed that I was invisible in society with regards to the media. Mrs. Obama has given a face and a voice to women like me.

  • http://wbur Noadna from Washington DC

    Michelle Obama is more than fashion and biceps – She knows about the crime ridden minority neighborhoods too! She just spent time in Anacostia, one of the worst neighborhoods in DC, speaking to children who have the ability but not the resources. She is REAL and has chosen her key support topics – military families, education, health. I think those are weighty topics and should we ever get from under this costly and godless war, I wouldn’t be surprised if her focus doesn’t shift to the War on Poverty.

  • Parsley Keenan

    I have great respect for Mrs. Obama and am hopeful that with her integrity, intelligence as a person and her compassion for many of the important issues affecting the country and the world, she would be able to initiate more attention and direly needed help for the problems we are facing.
    However, I am just so sick of hearing the word-dicing, triple-guessing, mind-reading, future-telling(predicting) that has become a general practice by great number of these so called “experts/journalists/scholars” on the show.
    Get away from you computer and off your butts and do something that really makes a difference already.

  • http://blog.fromwembleypark.com Lyn

    You saw a message in this? I thought Obama just wanted some collard greens.

  • http://att.net Susan Williams

    As a white American I am proud to have Michelle Obama and her family in the White House. We needed change and they are a breathe of fresh air. Michelle is friendly, caring, and sincere. She is educated, intelligent, and a great asset to the President and our country. She needs to stay true to who she is and not let cruel words touch her. The Obama’s are a breath of fresh air to the White House. Michelle will make mistakes and be critized for who she is, but she is a role model for us all. She is honest and speaks her mind with respect to those around her. Michelle is a blessing to have as a First Lady. They need our support and prayers. Michelle and her family have a heavy load to bare. She shows us strength and courage as a First Lady. God Bless her and her family. They are beautiful.

  • http://tombstone001.blogspot.com MOHAMMED N. RAZAVI

    “On point” meets “the View”
    pretty dang light weight

  • Meg Phelps

    I’m not sure why we need to lament the scrutiny under which the Obama’s fall for all their parenting decisions. Isn’t that just part of the job description? Yes, they SHOULD feel the weight of every decision; yes, they SHOULD get a rescue dog. When the whole world is watching, what should be more important, to get it the way you want, or maybe sacrifice a little to do the right, symbolically powerful thing? I believe it’s called “leadership,” and it’s what they signed up for.

  • Lilya Lopekha

    Let’s Get Rid of Lying/Cheating Giethner

  • Michelle Hauser

    I am appalled by the guest at the end of the hour that equated Michelle Obama with “not being an intellectual” because she is interested in being a mother and supportive of her husband while he is President of the United States. I have seen many “intellectual” women take time from their careers to spend part of their lives dedicated to being the cornerstone of a family. This in no way detracts from being an intellectual. As a woman, I felt degraded by the simplistic and superficial view that this guest took in describing Michelle Obama. It is sad to hear those in our society that still think that they can judge the complex inner lives of accomplished women just by looking at their proverbial covers.

  • Laura Soto-Barra

    Mrs. Obama is one of the most intelligent women in the country. She’s perhaps smarter than her husband. I agree that at first in the campaign she was angry but her speeches were incredibly solid and engaging (without notes!) Obviously, we are seeing the mother and the wife and less the intellectual persona she is. We should let her settle down in the WH; I trust she will do something amazing. I have no problems with her showing off her great arms or her looking beautiful. She’s a role model for all women of all colors and ages.

  • millard-fillmore

    Maybe she should throw her hat in the ring in 2016.

  • mila

    i found this discussion to be insulting to michelle, in particular and black women in general.

    to express with surprise that she is a loving and caring mother. to just be amazed that she is a normal woman who loves her husband. to act as though a black woman’s or any woman’s job is to be smiley and happy on the arm of her man is completely disgusting.

    how shocking that a black woman embodies qualities that defy the racist stereotypes and misconceptions of nonblacks.

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