Michelle Obama Defends Patriotism, Jokes of 'Girl Fight' on 'View'

Candidate's wife attempts to soften image as husband looks to win women's votes.


June 18, 2008 — -- Michelle Obama made her debut appearance on ABC's "The View" Wednesday as her husband, Sen. Barack Obama, wages a fight against Sen. John McCain for the support of women voters, a key bloc in the race for the White House.

Obama appeared relaxed, cracking jokes alongside "View" co-hosts Barbara Walters, Whoopi Goldberg, Elisabeth Hasselbeck, Joy Behar, and Sherri Sheperd.

Her appearance on the popular women's daytime television program coincides with an attempt by the Obama campaign to soften her image and combat efforts by some conservatives to paint her as unpatriotic or angry.

"I have to be greeted properly -- fist-bump, please," Obama said in her opening line, pressing fists with each of her co-hosts in response to a Fox News Channel report depicting her fist "dap" with her husband on the night he won the nomination as a "terrorist fist jab."

She explained she learned the greeting from young staffers on the Obama campaign.

"It's the new high-five," she said.

Asked by ABC's Barbara Walters how she has been dealing with widespread criticism of her patriotism, Obama said she has taken it in stride. The potential first lady sparked conservative outrage when she said at a Wisconsin rally early in the primaries that her husband's candidacy was "the first time in my adult life I am really proud of my country."

She later clarified her remarks, but the Tennessee GOP Party created an online video criticizing her remark, and the tape has been replayed numerous times on cable television.

Appearing eager to set the record straight Wednesday in front of a television audience of millions of women, Obama said she is "proud of my country, without a doubt."

"I'm a girl who grew up in a working-class neighborhood in Chicago … let me tell you, of course I'm proud," she said. "Nowhere but in America could my story be possible."

"What I was talking about is pride in the political process," she said.

The wife of the presumptive Democratic nominee said she puts her "heart out on my sleeve" when she is campaigning — and doing so sometimes gets her in trouble with critics.

Conservative columnist Michelle Malkin has called her "his bitter half," and the conservative National Review ran a depiction of her on its cover with an angry scowl and the caption "Mrs. Grievance."

Asked by Walters about the constant media scrutiny, Obama said, "The more people get to know me, get to know my family," the more voters will be attracted to her husband's candidacy.

Obama, 44, would become the nation's first African-American first lady if her husband wins the White House in November, and she would be one of the youngest first ladies since Jackie Kennedy.

Obama told the ladies she sent a thank-you note to first lady Laura Bush after she defended her "really proud" comment in an interview. Bush said Obama misspoke and meant to say she was more proud of the country.

"I'm taking some cues from her," Obama said. "There's a reason people like her -- It's because she doesn't, sort of, you know, add fuel to the fire."

Obama said the media seems so fixated on her because she "fills a lot of airtime." She has also been the victim of false rumors circulating on the Internet, including an untrue claim by a blogger supportive of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential bid, that she made an accusatory speech at her church against "whitey."

The Obama campaign launched an anti-smear Web site last week to combat those false rumors and others about the candidate.

Asked by Joy Behar whether she thought Clinton had been the victim of sexism in the media, Obama agreed.

"People aren't used to strong women," she said, "We don't even know what to say about them."

Obama credited Clinton for "putting cracks" in the proverbial glass ceiling.

It's only when women like her take the hits and it's painful, it's hurtful, but she' s taking them so that my girls, when they come along, won't have to feel it as badly," she said.

Walters asked why she was reticent early on about her husband's presidential bid. Obama candidly spoke about not wanting the give up her husband to national politics.

"I was like 'please, don't do this,'" she said. "I didn't want Barack to go into politics because I thought politics was a mean business. I knew this man that I loved, he was sweet, empathetic."

But when she though about it as a voter and a mother, she said, she knew her husband was the right choice for the country.

Early in the show, as if to diffuse any tension between Obama and Elisabeth Hasselbeck, a vocal Republican, co-host Whoopi Goldberg said on the air, "Okay you two, no mor hair-pulling!"

"I'm sorry," Obama deadpanned. "We're through," Hasselbeck said, smiling as Obama.

Later, during a commercial break, Hasselbeck broke into tears while explaining to audience members that she is sad to be leaving her baby boy, Taylor, for the first time next week to tape the show in Las Vegas next week.

The potential first lady appeared to briefly console her as all of the ladies sat on the couch in preparation for a group interview of celebrity guest Matthew Broderick.

Obama looked over at a teary Hasselbeck and appeared to whisper to her and fellow co-host Sherri Shepherd, "Everything okay?"

On the air today, Hasselbeck said it was ridiculous for people to anticipate a "girl fight" between herself and Michelle Obama.

"We must be enemies because we disagree politically?" Hasselbeck asked rhetorically.

Hasselbeck, who supports the Iraq war and spoke at the 2004 Republican Convention, grilled Barack Obama during his appearance in March over his association with Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

On the air, Obama said of Hasselbeck: "This girl is solid, she's got great kids, she's funny."

Reviews of Obama's 'View' performance from audience members were mixed.

As the show was ending, Janet Brown, 70, of New Jersey leaned over to her friend and whispered, "She rocks, I have a whole new outlook on her."

"She's not going to be president," responded Eileen Curtis, 74.

Kelly Robinson, wife of Michelle's brother Craig Robinson, told ABC News her sister-in-law's 'View' appearance was a good way to see her.

"She's doing terrific," Robinson told ABC News between segments.

Michelle Obama is viewed more favorably by likely voters than Cindy McCain, 48 percent to 39 percent, according to a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll. But while Obama leads in favorability, many voters say they haven't formed an opinion yet of McCain, and slightly more voters also view Obama unfavorably — 29 percent vs. McCain's 25 percent.

Scrutiny of the potential first ladies was evident among audience members waiting to get into the live show.

"I think she's wonderful," Veronica Deas, 45, said of Michelle Obama.

Deas drove from Maryland to see 'The View' with her sister and four girlfriends.

"She's intelligent, she knows the issues, she stands by her man but she's not going to try to take his job," she said in an apparent jab at Sen. Clinton.

"I don't really know much about her but she has been more visible than Cindy McCain," said Mary Laucks, 47, of Connecticut.

Other audience members weren't as enthused.

"What concerns me the most is her lack of patriotism and her lack of ettiquette," said Bonnie Halkowicz, 37, of Allentown, Pa. "Cindy McCain doesn't pat her husband on the butt or do the fist-jab thing," she said. "I don't enjoy that."

Obama canceled a scheduled Decemberappearance on the "The View," refusing to cross a picket line during the writer's strike. Cindy McCain guest-hosted in April, and Obama told executive producer Bill Geddie that she'd like to do the same.

"It will be, for many, the first real introduction to the woman who may be our next First Lady," Geddie said in a New York Daily News article Wednesday.

Her campaign staff told ABC News she didn't prepare for the show, but was "brushing up" this week on Matthew Broderick, the show's celebrity guest interview.

During the interview, Broderick told her his young son with actress Sarah Jessica Parker, James Wilke, loves Barack Obama.

"Young kids are drawn to Barack," she said. "They call him Barako Bama."

Over the next five months, Obama will appear at campaign events across the country, delivering a new, big-crowd campaign speech highlighting her working-class, Chicago roots.

"She's going to introduce her husband and her family to voters so that people can really get a chance to know them, how they're raising their daughters, how they make decisions, and who he has been over the last 20 years that she has known him," an Obama campaign aide told ABC News.

She has hired a new chief of staff with a sharp reputation. Stephanie Cutter, a veteran of Sen. John Kerry's 2004 campaign who has worked for Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., will lead Michelle Obama's team.

She is also a key component of her husband's effort to woo the strong base of women voters that supported Sen. Clinton.

An aide said she will continue meeting with women in roundtable discussions about balancing work and family. She will focus more in coming months on military wives, who face additional pressures when their spouses are deployed overseas.

Both Michelle Obama and Cindy McCain have become important to their husband's bid to attract women voters, estimated to represent 54 percent of the electorate this year.

McCain stepped up his efforts to attract Clinton's supporters, complimenting her "inspiring" primary bid and promising over the weekend to increase the number of women in government if he is elected president.

Sen. Obama countered this week, telling ABC News' Jake Tapper that McCain has "been on the wrong side" of women's issues throughout his career, pointing to McCain's opposition to abortion and his failure to vote on a recent Senate bill legislating against workplace discrimination of women.

Clinton won 52 percent of women voters to Obama's 43 percent over the five-month Democratic primary contests. However Obama appears to be making up some of that ground in the general election, primarily because more women tend to be Democrats.

Barack Obama leads John McCain among women likely voters 13 percentage points in last week's Gallup poll and 19 percentage points in the the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll.

But among married white women, McCain has a 20-point advantage (56-36) over Barack Obama, according to Tuesday's ABC News/Washington Post poll — a "danger sign" for Obama said ABC News' George Stephanopoulos Tuesday on "Good Morning America."

"This is a huge gap that Obama has to close if he's going to do well," Stephanopoulos said, while noting that President Bush won this voting group in 2000 and 2004.

ABC News' Sunlen Miller and Bret Hovell contributed to this report.

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