Michelle Obama Mother-in-Chief, Graces Vogue Cover
by Kai EL’ Zabar
It’s an understatement to say that First Lady Michelle Obama has become a favorite of the American People and she will be missed. According to Vogue Magazine she will be affectionately remembered as America’s “Mother-in-Chief.” Her life on display as First Lady was different from most. Upon becoming First Lady, opinions had been formed prior to as she stomped the grounds for her hubby, Democratic Presidential Candidate Barack Obama. Intelligent, educated and possessing a mind of her own, she wrote her own stump speeches for her husband’s presidential campaign and generally spoke without notes.
For instance, speaking at a rally in Milwaukee, she said: “Hope is making a comeback and, let me tell you, for the first time in my adult life I am really proud of my country. Not just because Barack is doing well, but I think people are hungry for change.”
Michelle was a 44-year-old Harvard-trained lawyer with two children, married to an Harvard trained lawyer. This was all too familiar to the Bill and Hillary partnership. Republicans abhorred the idea of a woman with her own mind who was an effective advocate for her husband on the campaign trail. They pushed the negative side of her reputation for speaking her mind, which occasionally raised eyebrows. From their perspective, they did not need another head strong First Lady in the White house.
Following her Milwaukee speech conservatives seized on the remarks, which were trending on the internet with comments criticizing her loyalty to the United States and lack of gratitude for the opportunities it had provided her.
Consequently the some media reported that Michelle Obama was an “Angry Black Woman,” and some web sites attempted to propagate this image, saying that she was unamerican, prompting her to respond: “Barack and I have been in the public eye for many years now, and we’ve developed a thick skin along the way. When you’re out campaigning, there will always be criticism. I just take it in stride, and at the end of the day, I know that it comes with the territory.”
Her style and firm confidence earned a no-nonsense, and unapologetic sense of self as an intelligent woman, a Black woman, and leader that pushed her through the scrutiny of her public and allowed the world to get a greater glimpse into who this formidable woman was. It was clear early on that neither Michelle or Barack Obama were ordinary people. Both were attorneys who had attended Ivy League schools but most distinct was the fact that they were Black with humble beginnings, who had the support of none other than Ms. Oprah Winfrey, who also hit the campaign trail. And for the first time she endorsed a candidate for president.
By the time of the 2008 Democratic National Convention in August, media outlets observed that her persona on the campaign trail had grown softer than at the start when the gun went off and the race began. Her focus honed in on soliciting concerns and empathizing with the audience rather than throwing down challenges to them, and giving interviews to shows like The View and publications like Ladies’ Home Journal rather than appearing on news programs. This change observed seemed intentional and calculated with definite intended projected outcome.
Clearly the up and coming First Lady was interviewing for the position. Clearly it was a comprehensive plan. The change clearly was reflected in her fashion choices, wearing more relatable clothes in place of her more upscale designer pieces. She appeared less formal and more like the woman next door instead of the powerful woman in the board room. The View appearance was partly intended to help soften her public image, and it was widely covered in the press. The public was beginning to see her as a woman, a potential First Lady, the woman behind the man.
The presidential campaign was Michelle Obama’s first exposure to the national political scene; even before the field of Democratic candidates was narrowed to two, she was considered the least known of the candidates’ spouses. Early in the campaign, she told anecdotes about the Obama family life; however, as the press began to emphasize her sarcasm, she toned it down. The New York Times op-ed columnist Maureen Dowd wrote:
“I wince a bit when Michelle Obama chides her husband as a mere mortal – a comic routine that rests on the presumption that we see him as a god … But it may not be smart politics to mock him in a way that turns him from the glam JFK into the mundane Gerald Ford, toasting his own English muffin. If all Senator Obama is peddling is the Camelot mystique, why debunk this mystique?”
But on the first night of the 2008 Democratic National Convention, Craig Robinson introduced his younger sister. Michelle Obama delivered her speech, which she conveyed herself and her family as the embodiment of the American Dream. Obama said both she and her husband believed “that you work hard for what you want in life, that your word is your bond, and you do what you say you’re going to do, that you treat people with dignity and respect, even if you don’t know them, and even if you don’t agree with them.
She told the cheering delegates that her husband would be “an extraordinary president.” “Barack will finally bring the change we need,” she said. Dismissing questions about her patriotism, Obama said, “I love this country” — a rebuttal to criticism after remarks earlier this year when she said she, ‘felt proud of America for the first time.’ where the original statement was seen as a gaffe. That keynote address was largely well received and drew mostly positive reviews. It was a turning point a major poll found that her favorability among Americans reached 55%. The plan was working.
Once in the office, Michelle Obama’s fashion choices became the talk of the town. Her original upscale designer apparel had long been forgotten and her middle class wardrobe made her more acceptable and reachable. She did not insult or intimidate the average American. She appeared to really be one of them. She had gone to school and achieved much but she remained down to earth. On the campaign trail she had dropped the formality, and appeared in slacks, sweaters and casual skirts and tops. As first lady, who can forget when the First Lady walked onto The Tonight Show with Jay Leno’ stage in a Michael Kors gold crew neck and a J. Crew skirt accessorized with a House of Lavande jeweled belt and blush pumps. Wow! That was an outfit that all women could relate and most could actually afford.
So as she prepares to leave the White House it’s perfect that she graces the November cover of Vogue Magazine looking ethereal in a white Carolina Herrera gown. As Jamie Feldman of the Huffington Post describes, ” she is, as usual, the epitome of elegance and grace. Aptly calling her America’s “Mother-in-Chief,” the story followed Obama in the months leading up to Election Day.”
Of course now, the story, cover and Obama’s words, which went to print before the election, hold a completely new meaning post-election. Read the article if you haven’t and consider the way she describes her role as first lady described by Vogue as “surprisingly malleable, shaped by the personality, style and interests (or lack thereof) of the person occupying it.”
I will reiterate what a fellow canvasser said to me on the bus on our way to Iowa to register voters for Hillary, “We’re going to miss Obama when he’s gone,” Yes but we will also miss our First “Mother-in-Chief.”
The president says, “Who you see is who she is. The brilliant, funny, generous woman who, for whatever reason, agreed to marry me. I think people gravitate to her because they see themselves in her—a dedicated mom, a good friend, and someone who’s not afraid to poke a little fun at herself from time to time.”
Perhaps as a Black woman I find it apropos. Her being referred to as the Mother-in-Chief, that is because as Black folks our mothers have always been that person as she was to the white children, she nurtured, loved and raised as well. Black women have always been Mama, Mama Marie, Mama Smith, Big mama or Li’lmama. Perhaps it’s in our genes, the African gene–Mother Africa, mother of all mankind.