No shrinking violet, Michelle Obama, the 43-year-old wife of presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., told "Good Morning America" that she is a strong, professional woman and that her husband's ability to deal with her is one of the reasons Americans should elect him president.
Called Obama's closest adviser and his daily reality check, Michelle was raised on the south side of Chicago and is a graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law school. Today she juggles a career, duties as a wife and mother of two little girls and the role of campaigner.
Watch the second part of this interview this week on "Good Morning America."
"I don't want to paint some unrealistic picture of who we are so that in the end, when it falls apart and if we haven't lived up to this unrealistic expectation, people feel let down in some way," Obama told anchor Robin Roberts. "This is who we are. I've got a loud mouth. I tease my husband. He is incredibly smart, and he is very able to deal with a strong woman, which is one of the reasons why he can be president, because he can deal with me."
With the landmark run of both Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and Obama for the 2008 presidential bid, many wonder who has a better shot at making history as either the first female or first black president. Michelle believes that regardless of race, American voters are looking for connection to a candidate.
"I think that the American people… are ready to have somebody that they can believe in and that they can connect to," Obama said in a two-part interview that began Tuesday. "And I think that if Barack does what he's supposed to do and this campaign is… run well, and he can be clear and articulate in his message… he'll be the next president of the United States and… we will be swearing him in '08."
Obama said that the media has presented distorted images of the black community in America.
"As we've all said in the black community, we don't see all of who we are in, in the media. We see snippets… of our community and distortions of our community," she said. "So the world has this perspective that somehow Barack and Michelle Obama are different, that we're unique. And we're not. You just haven't seen us before."
Now Obama is stepping out from behind the scenes and onto the campaign trail. For the first time, the country is hearing her strong views on the war in Iraq, health care and family values.
"We have spent the last decade talking a good game about family values, but I haven't seen much evidence that we value women or family values," she said recently in South Carolina.
She said the reason she hasn't seen more respect for family values is because the country's resources are all tied up in the war.
"All of our emotional and financial resources… as a country have been totally put into the war. We haven't talked about the domestic issue in about 10 years," she said. "There are no serious conversations about health care or education, or child care, or minimum wage. I mean, these are the basic issues that eat away at the family structure. So you can't just tell, you know, a family of four to suck it up and make it work."
When pressed, however, she declined to point fingers.
"I think that we as a country have been a little lax in… our concern for these issues," she said. "We've been nullified by the fear mongers, you know? It's almost as if people have voted against their best personal issue interests because they've been so afraid of what could happen. You know, the terrorists are gonna get us."
"[Terrorism is] an incredibly important concern, but where is the balance, you know… is really the question -- where is the balance?" she continued. "You have to be a respected player. You have to do a little bit of both. So that nonideological, a nonfear-based approach is really what we need now as a country."
In 2003, Barack Obama was an Illinois state senator, and he was one of very few voices speaking out against war with Iraq.
"You can't do the 'I told you so.' We're in a war. We have young men and women over there fighting right now, and we have to think pragmatically about bringing this to an end. That's the conversation now. That was then. This is now," Obama said of her husband's position. "We have to deal with Iraq today… is what he has been saying. And, again, you can't take a rash approach. You can't just pull folks out. You can't just cut off funding completely. You've got to unravel this thing in a… common sense way. So, that's how I, I would say he'd answer the question."
Although Obama is one of her husband's closest advisers, she said they both do their jobs independently.
"Barack and I have always been professionally independent, and I like it like that," she said. "I don't want to do my husband's job, and I don't want him to do mine. So… we're focused on our day-to-day life and existence and making sure that we stay whole. And I would say that in that respect, that's where I'm his biggest adviser."
When asked whether she would be more like Laura Bush or like Clinton as first lady, Michelle Obama said she tried to avoid comparisons.
"I say that because it is so hard to project out realistically what life will be like for me as a woman, for me as a mother when Barack… becomes president. It's hard to know," she said. "What I do know is that given the many skills that I have on so many different levels, I will be what I have to be at the time. And it really will depend on what the country needs, what my family needs, what Barack needs. So I want to remain flexible enough so whatever is needed of me, that's what I will do."