Michelle Obama: Mom First, Political Wife Second

Potential first lady balances kids, work and campaign trail.


Jan. 24, 2008— -- Michelle Obama wants you to know she's a mom first, political wife second.

So while she's flying to South Carolina to spend four days campaigning for her husband, she'll take a minute to check an e-mail from her 9-year-old daughter Malia's teacher.

The e-mail this morning caught her off guard. It said that Malia had been talking about "scary people" and "kidnapping" being one of the things she finds "un-cool" during a class discussion. As it turned out, Obama told a gathering of women in Greenville there was nothing to be concerned about.

Little Malia was only joking, she told her panicked mom by phone.

"I shouldn't say that in front of the cameras," Michelle Obama said as she quickly glanced at a gaggle of reporters in the back

Just three days before the South Carolina primary, there is an intense focus on the words of the spouses of the front-runners. Just ask former President Bill Clinton.

"Look at all these people! Where did you all come from?" Michelle Obama asked as she entered the ladies lunch in Greenville.

She seemed genuinely surprised to be the subject of so much attention.

Michelle Obama spoke to the 150 or so women at the Lazy Goat restaurant, shook some hands and posed for photos. She declined to take any questions from reporters and said nothing directly about Hillary Clinton -- or her famous spouse.

But she did speak passionately about her life as a working mom and the reasons she thinks she deserves to be first lady.

Michelle Obama still holds a part-time position as vice president for community and external affairs at he University of Chicago Hospitals. Last year she scaled back her hours to part-time to make room for helping her husband's campaign.

She has said that she carries two BlackBerries while out on the campaign trail -- one for work and the other for the campaign trail.

Michelle Obama's speech Wednesday stood in contrast to the typical speech former President Clinton has delivered on the trail.

He dwells on the details of policy -- exhaustive explanations of his wife's positions on health care, Iraq, education and other subjects. The Illinois senator's spouse highlights the personal.

Obama began with a story she rarely tells in public. She described what it was like deciding whether to go back to work after having her second child, Sasha.

"Every minute after I had my first child I questioned my decisions," Obama said as women in the audience nodded along. One day she would love work. The next day she would feel like quitting.

She told of interviewing for a new job when Sasha was just 4 months old. She didn't think she wanted the job, so she tried to sabotage the interview by bringing the baby along, nursing Sasha just before the interview and demanding a high salary.

She got the job. But she struggled with the balance, she said. She still does, saying she worries about her children every day.

"We've been told we can have it all. The truth of the matter is that you can't. You can't have it all at the same time."

Obama said her husband gets it.

"He's watched my struggle and the pain that I have had as a woman."

Obama said her support for her husband "comes straight from my motherhood bones".

Obama also said the nation is too cynical and afraid, and she worries about the next generation.

"We still harbor a level of meanness here in this society that is unhealthy. … We've come to the point where mean is a character trait that we laud. We mistake meanness with toughness. I'm working so hard to teach them not to be mean girls," she said of her daughters.

Obama accused her husband's rivals of using fear to make political attacks and said Americans have a "veil of impossibility" hanging over their heads.

"In America, we spend more time talking about what can't get done, what is impossible. … We pass that on to our children. And we're creating a generation of doubters … kids that are timid."

"I don't want that for my girls," she added.

Her girls are back in Chicago, staying with Michelle Obama's 70-year-old mother.

"There's nothing like grandma," Obama said.

Not surprisingly, Michelle Obama believes her husband is the one who can change the nation's collective cynicism and fear.

"Wisdom and judgment and years of working in the shadows does count. It counts," she said.

The question, she said, is whether Americans are ready to let go of our fear.

"Are you gonna make a decision based on fear or doubt or what is not possible again," she said, emphasizing the word "again." "Or are we gonna grasp hope and possibility?"

"The only candidate who will snatch that veil of impossibility off the heads of all these kids is Barack," she said.

"We could potentially do something big here," she said of her husband's bid.

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