Michelle Obama Becomes Target for Conservatives

Conservative attacks on Barack Obama's wife are not so subtle.

COLUMBUS, Ohio, June 13, 2008 — -- Michelle Obama is getting laughs at the Oakleaf Village of Columbus retirement home in Ohio as she talks about her mother, "an active 70-year-old who does yoga," who treats her granddaughters Sasha and Malia -- the daughters of Michelle and Sen. Barack Obama -- "like queens," letting them eat ice cream and jump on the sofa.

"And I wonder: Who is this?" Michelle says, suggesting that her parents were a lot more strict with her as a little girl growing up. The grandparents in the room nod knowingly and chuckle.

After Michelle praises her husband as a leader, as a man, as a father and as "the next president of the United States," the senator claims a similar disconnect.

"She never says such nice things about me at home!" he smiles. "I really enjoy listening to her praise me like that because when I get home she'll remind me that I didn't make the bed."

This is the Michelle Obama that the Obama campaign wants Americans to get to know -- not the "Mrs. Grievance" depicted with an angry scowl on the cover of the conservative National Review, or "His Bitter Half," as conservative columnist Michelle Malkin called her.

Some of the conservative attacks are even less subtle. Fox News Channel depicted her loving fist-bump with her husband the night he clinched enough delegates to win the Democratic presidential nomination as a "terrorist fist jab" and a chyron on Fox News identified Michelle Obama as "Obama's Baby Mama," urban slang for an ex-girlfriend with whom one has fathered an out-of-wedlock child.

The Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune followed up with other stories probing why the woman once seen as a potential African-American Jackie Kennedy risks becoming more of a liability, a black Teresa Heinz Kerry.

At a posh fundraiser for the Democratic Party's White House Victory Fund Thursday night Obama told supporters that their opponents are "going to try to make me into a scary guy. They're even trying to make Michelle into a scary person."

As the general election kicks into gear, the Obama campaign wants Americans to instead meet the woman whom friends describe as clever and warm, who will pull up a sixth chair on "The View" next Wednesday to chat about "hot topics" and interview actor Matthew Broderick. (Michelle Obama has been studying up on Broderick and his wife, Sarah Jessica Parker, to prepare.) She's been leading a number of public forums with military wives, which campaign aides say she finds rewarding and her husband sometimes refers to on the stump.

"The idea is to have people be introduced to who she really is," said Katie McCormick, Michelle Obama's spokeswoman.

For instance, after Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland introduced her today as one half of a "power couple," Michelle Obama said she thought of herself more as one-half of a team of "power parents."

Part of the rollout of "Michelle Obama 2.0" -- or "Michelle Obama 1.0" for the millions of Americans who haven't paid huge attention to the contests so far -- has been the new Obama Web site "FightTheSmears.com" set up to correct the record amid a barrage of untrue Internet rumors. Obama had resisted such a formal move, thinking it only dignified and helped spread unfounded rumors, such as the one that he's a Muslim. But after a reporter asked him last week about an apparently nonexistent videotape of Michelle using the word "whitey," he told them to set up the Web site.

Still, some of her troubles are clearly Michelle Obama's own making,

Wherever she goes -- and today's appearance in Ohio, a state her husband lost to Sen. Hillary Clinton by eight points, was her first general election campaign stop -- Michelle Obama is often asked by local media about her February statement to Wisconsinites that "for the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country. And not just because Barack has done well, but because I think people are hungry for change."

That comment prompted hours of cable TV commentary. Many Americans being introduced to Michelle Obama's persona for the first time wondered what she -- beautiful, brilliant, wealthy -- seemed so angry about.

There were attempts at damage control. Her husband told ABC News at the time that "she simply misspoke. Because what she was referring to is this was the first time she'd been proud of politics in America. ... She spoke about how she'd been cynical of American politics for a very long time, but she's proud of how people are participating and involved in ways they haven't for a very long time."

But the damage was done. The Tennessee Republican Party took out a Web ad featuring Michelle's remarks interspersed with interviews with Tennesseans explaining all the ways they're proud of their country, prompting her husband to tell "Good Morning America" in May that "these folks should lay off my wife. She loves this country, and for them to try to distort or play snippets of her remarks in ways unflattering to her I think is just low class."

Last week, Michelle Obama was defended by no less than first lady Laura Bush. Mrs. Bush told ABC News' Jonathan Karl, "I think she probably meant I'm 'more proud,' you know, is what she really meant."

That said, the first lady suggested that Michelle Obama learn from her mistake.

"You have to be very careful in what you say," she said. "I mean, I know that, and that's one of the things you learn and that's one of the really difficult parts both of running for president and for being the spouse of the president, and that is, everything you say is looked at and in many cases misconstrued."

One example of comments Michelle Obama made that she later said were misconstrued came in August 2007 in Iowa, when some thought she was taking a shot at the Clinton's messy personal history when she said voters wanted to know of candidates "Is he somebody that respects family? Is he a good and decent person? Our view is that if you can't run your own house, you certainly can't run the White House."

Others have seized upon Michelle Obama's moments of candor about race in America that other African-Americans wouldn't think twice about, but that some white Americans interpreted within a prism of her supposed anger -- the "Grievance" notion that prompted her National Review cover scowl. She told "60 Minutes" in February that she wasn't consumed by assassination fears about her husband since "as a black man, you know, Barack can get shot going to the gas station."

Others have picked apart her senior thesis from Princeton University in 1985 -- titled, "Princeton-Educated Blacks and the Black Community" -- where the then-Michelle LaVaughn Robinson wrote that "I have found that at Princeton, no matter how liberal and open-minded some of my white professors and classmates try to be toward me, I sometimes feel like a visitor on campus; as if I really don't belong. Regardless of the circumstances under which I interact with whites at Princeton, it often seems as if, to them, I will always be black first and a student second."

More recently, speaking in South Carolina, she talked about her experience at Princeton, where she said she hung with a largely African-American crowd.

"We don't like being pushed outside of our comfort zones. You know it right here on this campus. You know people sitting at different tables. You are all living in different dorms. I was there. ... You're not talking to each other, taking advantage that you're in this diverse community. Because sometimes it's easier to hold on to your own stereotypes and misconceptions. It makes you feel justified in your own ignorance. That's America. So the challenge for us is are we ready for change?"

In November, we'll find out.

ABC News' Sunlen Miller and Andy Fies contributed to this report.