Being Michelle Obama these days: Be authentic, but beware of being too honest. Allow some pointed words for pet issues, but draw a veil around your family life. The lessons of having once said Barack smelled bad in the morning!
This month, the first lady appears on the covers of Good Housekeeping and Conde Nast Traveler, each poised to promote different prongs of her message. The former is the standard, relatable Mom-in-chief story (although she seems to be distancing herself a bit from the term itself). The latter takes the "People's house" and embrace of Washington further into anti-elitism — something of a contrast in a luxury magazine.
It's no surprise that Good Housekeeping would ask questions about family life, stress, and parenting. What's interesting is how resolutely and perkily Michelle refuses to actually answer the questions. Here's just one example:
RE: What is the toughest moment you've had together as a couple since you've come to the White House?
MO: [Pause] You know, I think when we visited the families of the fallen soldiers at Fort Hood. That was pretty tough. But I was so glad that we were there. And for whatever relief our presence offered, we'd do it again and again and again.
RE: But that wasn't a struggle for the two of you. Has there been something that was tough for you as a couple?
MO: No, not really. All the things that gave us trouble are - I don't want to say are resolved, but when you have so much support around you, and you have the time together as a family, you can take care of your kids, and you see them whole and happy - then everything else is just minor stuff of the day.
And this exchange illustrates Michelle deftly dodging a question that might peg her education as elitist:
RE: Here's one thing I'm curious about: How did Harvard Law prepare you for parenting?
MO: Oh, goodness! [Laughs] I think it's all the experiences along the journey, and Harvard was one of many important stops along that journey. But it's the culmination of experiences that prepares you. I think parenting has so much to do with common sense and patience and remaining open.
That theme is even stronger in "Mrs. Obama's Washington," the Traveler story about the First Lady's approach to a de facto segregated city:
"Barack and I come from a community-organizing background," Mrs. Obama told us during a recent visit. "The notion has always been that you have to commit to the community you're in, wherever that is. You really have to connect. So it was important for me to do that here, given the fact that in many cities there is a disconnect between the central part of the city and the neighborhoods that surround it."
"Kids in Anacostia should be taking up the spots in the page program on Capitol Hill. They should be the ones who get to intern at the White House. They should have equal access as well as the folks with power from all over the country. I think as more and more kids have those experiences they start to expand their sense of who they can be in the world. And if we can do that for kids here in D.C., we can do that for kids around the world who are coming to visit and walking up to that fence by the South Lawn and looking in that house and seeing a family, a president who connects to them in a fundamental way."
With everyone wanting a piece of the First Lady and her family, it's no wonder she is happier talking about the conflicts taking place down the road rather than the ones in the Residence.