Never Bet Against a Mom.

by Shari MacDonald Strong


The Washington Post, The Politico, and the Huffington Post report that President Obama unleashed First Lady Michelle on federal agencies today in an attempt to drum up support for the new stimulus package, which Republicans are opposing. HuffPo calls her “a major weapon,” but the term feels somewhat inaccurate, as Mrs. Obama has a reputation not for strong-arming potential converts, but for charming them.


During the presidential campaign, Barack Obama wowed the crowds with his ideas and, perhaps even more so, with his articulation of them. But Michelle herself won over many undecided voters. “If he has a wife that smart,” I heard people say, over and over again, “he’s got to have good judgment. He obviously surrounds himself with intelligent people.”


Indeed, like Obama’s closest advisers, Mrs. Obama is intelligent – brilliant, even. That’s been obvious from the get-go. As a highly educated and accomplished attorney, career woman, community leader, and campaigner, she’s also clearly demonstrated tremendous strength of personality. For many of us, the question has been: how will she use that strength in her husband’s administration? Or will she use it at all?


When she described in November her intention to put her family first during her time in the White House, some bemoaned what they took as an intentional positioning of Mrs. Obama as a non-political being. Isn’t Michelle a feminist? some asked about the Princeton and Harvard Law School grad. Can’t she be a mom and a political player, too?


Well, obviously she can – and, as demonstrated last week by her participation in events commemorating the signing of the Lily Ledbetter bill, and today by her entry into the stimulus package fray -- she is. Indeed, with her intelligence and insight and strength and professional background, Michelle Obama stands poised to become, perhaps, the most powerful First Lady in U.S. History. Of course, from 1993 to 2001, Hillary Clinton held that honor. But widespread resistance to Clinton’s ideas – or, perhaps more likely, to her presence as a woman – disappointingly limited her influence. Still, if Clinton left 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling of the Presidency, how many more might she have left in the First Lady’s office? Will Michelle Obama face the same nasty criticism and external limitations that Hillary Clinton faced when she flexed her political muscles during Bill Clinton’s administration? Or will a new millennium, and a different personality and approach, provide more chances for the President’s wife to act as a political player?