Michelle Obama Talks About The Conversation She Had When Barack Wanted To Run For President: I Had To Take Off My Wife Hat & Put On My Citizen Hat
Ahead of the release of her memoir “Becoming” Michelle Obama is providing some detailed background information about the book of the season. Oprah Winfrey, who received an advance copy of the memoir, earned the opportunity to get candid with the former First Lady about different bits of the book she thought was most telling. In an interview, Obama explains her upbringing, why she decided to write this book, the conversation between she and her husband Barack when he decided he wanted to run for President, and why she chose to address to Trump. Check out a few excerpts.
Why she decided to write the book:
Having time to think about what had just happened over the last eight years. Because what I came to realize is that there was absolutely no time to reflect in the White House. We moved at such a breakneck pace from the moment we walked in those doors until the moment we left. It was day in and day out because we, Barack and I, really felt like we had an obligation to get a lot done. We were busy. I would forget on Tuesday what had happened on Monday. I forgot whole countries I visited, literally whole countries. I had a debate with my chief of staff saying, ‘You know, I’d love to visit Prague one day.’ And Melissa was like, ‘You were there.’ I was like, ‘No, I wasn’t. Wasn’t in Prague, never been to Prague.’ She had to show me a picture of me in Prague for the memory to jog. So the toast was the moment that I had time to start thinking about those eight years and my journey of becoming.
When she knew she didn’t want to be a lawyer anymore:
It took a lot to be able to say that out loud to myself. In the book, I take you on the journey of who that little striving star-getter became, which is what a lot of hard-driving kids become: a box checker. Get good grades: check. Apply to the best schools, get into Princeton: check. Get there, what’s your major? Uh, something that’s going to get me good grades so I can get into law school, I guess? Check. Get through law school: check. I wasn’t a swerver. I wasn’t somebody that was going to take risks. I narrowed myself to being this thing I thought I should be. It took losses in my life that made me think, Have you ever stopped to think about who you wanted to be? I had not. I was sitting on the 47th floor of an office building, going over cases and writing memos.
I was scared to death. You know, my mother didn’t comment on the choices that we made. She was live-and-let-live. So one day she’s driving me from the airport after I was doing document production in Washington, D.C., and I was like, “I can’t do this for the rest of my life. I can’t sit in a room and look at documents.” It’s deadly. So I shared with her in the car: I’m just not happy. I don’t feel my passion. And my mother—my uninvolved, live-and-let-live mother—said, “Make the money, worry about being happy later.” I was like [gulps], Oh. Okay. Because how indulgent that must have felt to my mother. When she said that, I thought, Wow, where did I come from, with all my luxury and wanting my passion? The luxury to even be able to decide—when she didn’t get to go back to work and start finding herself until after she got us into high school. So, yes. It was hard. And then I met this guy Barack Obama. He was the opposite of a box checker. He was swerving all over the place.
Her experience with going to marriage counseling:
Well, you go because you think the counselor is going to help you make your case against the other person. ‘Would you tell him about himself?!’ And lo and behold, counseling wasn’t that at all. It was about me exploring my sense of happiness. What clicked in me was that I need support and I need some from him. But I needed to figure out how to build my life in a way that works for me.
What she learned from counseling:
I feel vulnerable all the time. And I had to learn how to express that to my husband, to tap into those parts of me that missed him—and the sadness that came from that—so that he could understand. He didn’t understand distance in the same way. You know, he grew up without his mother in his life for most of his years, and he knew his mother loved him dearly, right? I always thought love was up close. Love is the dinner table, love is consistency, it is presence. So I had to share my vulnerability and also learn to love differently. It was an important part of my journey of becoming. Understanding how to become us.
What the conversation was like for Obama to run for Presidency:
Imagine having that burden. Could he, should he, would he? That happened when he wanted to run for state Senate, then Congress, then the U.S. Senate. I knew Barack was a decent man. Smart as all get-out. But politics was ugly and nasty. I didn’t know that my husband’s temperament would mesh with that. And I didn’t want to see him in that environment. But then on the flip side, you see the challenges that the world is facing. The longer you live and read the paper, you know that the problems are big and complicated. I thought, Well, what person do I know who has the gifts that this man has? The gifts of decency, first and foremost, of empathy second, of high intellectual ability. This man reads and remembers everything, you know? Is articulate. Had worked in the community. And really passionately feels like ‘This is my responsibility.’ How do you say no to that? So I had to take off my wife hat and put on my citizen hat.
How she assisted her husband through his eight years in the Oval Office:
Trying to be the calm in his swerve. You know, when the leaves are blowing and the wind is rough, being a steady trunk in his life. Family dinners. That was one of the things I brought into the White House—that strict code of, You gotta catch up with us, dude. This is when we’re having dinner. Yes, you’re president, but you can bring your butt from the Oval Office and sit down and talk to your children. Because children bring solace. They let you turn your sights off the issues of the day and focus on saving the tigers. That was one of Malia’s primary goals; she advocated throughout his presidency to make sure the tigers were saved. And hearing about what happened with what school friend. Immersing yourself in the reality and the beauty of your children and your family. Plus, on the East Wing side, our motto was, we have to do everything excellently. If we do something—because the First Lady doesn’t have to do anything— We were clear that what we were going to do was going to have impact and was going to be positive. The West Wing had enough going on; we wanted to be the happy side of the house. And we were.
Why she decided to address Trump in her book:
Because I don’t think he knew what he was doing. For him it was a game. But the threats that you face as the commander in chief are real. And your children are at risk. In order for my children to have a normal life, even though they had security, they were in the world in a way that we weren’t. To think that some crazed person might be ginned up to think my husband was a threat to the country’s security; and to know that my children, every day, had to go to a school, and soccer games, parties, and travel; to think that this person would not take into account that this was not a game—that’s something that I want the country to understand. I want the country to take this in, in a way I didn’t say out loud, but I am saying now. It was reckless, it put my family in danger, and it wasn’t true. And he knew it wasn’t true.