Michelle Obama is eager to show off the flourishing White House vegetable garden, but she's also keeping an eye out for her two daughters to get home from school.
"I just want to make sure that all of the homework that we do for the week was finished or being done," she explains, then mimics a child's assurance: "I don't have anything to do; I'm done." She rolls her eyes with a mother's skepticism.
She has been tending the White House garden with similarly determined oversight, chronicled in her first book, American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America (Crown, 271 pp., $30). Out today, the book is filled with photos and stories about her efforts to encourage gardens — from plots in vacant city lots to pots of herbs on apartment windowsills — and, with them, healthier diets, especially for kids.
Her drive against childhood obesity riles critics who say she is pursuing Nanny State policies on an issue better left to families. Four in 10 Americans say the federal government shouldn't play a big role in combating obesity.
Michelle Obama (who denies any Nanny State intentions) says she's glad the "big, bright light" that shines on her as the president's spouse can be focused on her chosen causes, but says she's not tempted to pursue such issues by running for office herself. More than not tempted, really: She rejects speculation that she might follow in Hillary Rodham Clinton's footsteps to try to go from first lady to the U.S. Senate (a New York Times columnist last week wrote he had heard "vague murmurings" about a post-White House bid in her native Illinois) with the sort of no-wiggle-room language politicians typically avoid.
"Absolutely not," she says flatly in an interview with USA TODAY. "It will not happen."
Or any political office?
"No chance at all."
She is poised to play a central role in President Obama's re-election campaign. She already has, headlining 54 fundraisers that have raised millions of dollars over the past year. Closer to Election Day, she'll be deployed to help turn out Democratic partisans who give her overwhelming approval. "I'm going to fight as hard as I can," she says. "I'm going to work as hard as I can to make sure that we have him for another four years, because there is a lot left to do."
For the moment, though, she would prefer to engage on the wonders of the garden she has tucked in a corner of the South Lawn, shielded by trees from the formal entrances where foreign leaders arrive but visible to tourists who cluster along the chain-link fence.
On this muggy spring day, there is an expanse of blue-green broccoli on the ground and deep-red fish peppers ripening on climbing vines.
There is Swiss chard and sea kale and Early Jersey Wakefield cabbage and four kinds of garlic. A patch of blueberries is in a low wire enclosure, designed to keep birds from feasting on the fruit. Two of the raised beds are named for Thomas Jefferson, the third president and an avid gardener. There, English peas are growing from seeds collected from his gardens at Monticello.
Barack Obama hates them.
To begin a conversation