Who Is Michelle Obama?

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Summer, 1991: An up-and-rising Chicago attorney, not yet 30, interviews for a job as an assistant to the mayor. The job offer is immediate. The attorney calls the next day. Not to accept, but to make a counteroffer: My fiance would like to meet you first.

Even back then, Michelle Obama displayed the kind of self-assuredness the public associates with her today, after watching as this woman, once ambivalent about politics, who never saw herself as a politician's wife, spent two years campaigning tirelessly to elect Barack Obama to the presidency.

She provided the presidential campaign with several memorable unguarded moments.

As in, cracking that she'd like to take Bill Clinton and "rip his eyes out."

And inartfully commenting about newfound pride in country, sparking a backlash by critics who accused her of being unpatriotic.

She is the family powerhouse who demanded that her husband quit smoking and who, when he called her to celebrate a legislative accomplishment, cut him off to say ants were overrunning the kitchen and bathroom and he needed to bring home traps.

Obama said he hung up wondering whether Sens. Edward M. Kennedy or John McCain ever bought ant traps on their way home.

As for the no-smoking edict, that's not been a complete success and it is easy to imagine her wagging finger should he slip up on that struggle at the White House.

Conventional wisdom is she helped his campaign by charming audiences. But there are other, less visible sides to Michelle Obama, the grown-up "daddy's girl" who turned 45 on Saturday.

Her deep roots and connections in Chicago led Obama to some of the people who would ultimately become major players in his political ascent.

Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama is Chicago through and through.

She was born and raised there, built a successful career there, and met her husband and gave birth to her two daughters there. Her longest stretch away came during the Ivy League years of the 1980s, when she followed older brother Craig east to Princeton University. She earned a sociology degree, followed by a law degree from Harvard.

After her husband's election to the U.S. Senate in 2004, Michelle Obama declined to move to Washington. She chose instead to stay close to the friends-and-family support network that lent its hands as she juggled career, two young children and a household during his extended absences, whether he was in the state Senate in Springfield, Ill., or in Washington.

Her father, Fraser, was a Democratic precinct captain who worked swing shifts at the city water plant despite the multiple sclerosis that was crippling him. Her mother, Marian, stayed home, raising the children in a one-bedroom apartment on the top floor of her aunt's house. Michelle and Craig slept in the living room, converted into two tiny bedrooms and a study area.

Michelle Obama talked about her dad often during the campaign, describing him as "our provider, our champion, our hero." He died in 1991.

Years later, she says, "I am constantly trying to make sure that I am making him proud - what would my father think of the choices that I've made, how I've lived my life, what careers I chose, what man I married?"

The combination of her father's passing, the death of a close friend and her relationship with Obama, who had been a community organizer in Chicago, ultimately led Michelle Obama to re-evaluate what she wanted out of life. She had spent a few years as an associate at the Chicago firm of Sidley & Austin as a corporate lawyer.

She settled on public service, and landed an interview with Valerie Jarrett, then a deputy chief of staff to Chicago Mayor Richard Daley. Offered the assistant's job on the spot, she asked if Jarrett would meet Obama, too.

Jarrett agreed - and passed muster. Michelle Obama took the job and Jarrett would become one of the couple's closest friends and advisers. She is headed to the White House as a senior adviser to the president.

The mayoral job led Michelle Obama to other public service work, including as the founding executive director of Public Allies, an AmeriCorps community service program that trained young people for jobs in the nonprofit world.

Her most recent position was as executive vice president for community and external affairs at the University of Chicago Hospitals, which paid a six-figure salary that for a time made her the family breadwinner.

In between, she married Obama in 1992. He had come to a Chicago law firm as a summer intern and she was assigned to mentor him. She had daughters Malia and Sasha in 1998 and 2001.

While Obama's community organizing work helped him make inroads of his own with South Side leaders and politicians, her Chicago roots were a bonus for a husband raised in faraway Hawaii and Indonesia. She knew Santita Jackson, daughter of the Rev. Jesse Jackson, and a variety of people from Daley's inner circle.

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Michelle Obama went through some rough patches in the presidential campaign.

Her service on the board of TreeHouse Foods, a supplier for Wal-Mart Stores Inc., came under scrutiny, especially given Obama's criticisms of the retail giant. She resigned in May 2007.

She drew criticism for early attempts to make Obama not so much of a phenomenon but rather a regular guy. She described him as "snorey and stinky" in the morning and not one to put the butter back in the fridge and his smelly socks in the hamper.

When she suggested attaining the presidency "is just a dream" if Obama failed to win the Iowa caucuses, his campaign hastily clarified that was not so. As it turned out, he won there.

The biggest flap came from her remark in Wisconsin in February: "For the first time in my adult life, I am really proud of my country."

Cindy McCain, the usually reticent wife of Republican presidential challenger John McCain, jumped in to say she'd always been proud of her country. The Tennessee and Washington state GOP circulated videos playing up her comments.

She was called mean, angry, unpatriotic.

She explained later that she had been trying to say how proud she was that people were engaging in the political process because of her husband's candidacy, and that she'd always been proud of America.

For all of that, she was a draw in her own right in the campaign, pulling in crowds of thousands. Admirers saw her as authentic, "not like a plastic talking head," as one supporter put it.

It's clear as she prepares for the White House that she watches her words more closely than in the dawn of the campaign. But there is still the air of "real" about her.

She has said she will be "mom-in-chief," and her immediate priority will be helping her daughters adjust and not get too bigheaded because their daddy is president. She wants them to make their own beds and do chores.

Also helping to settle Malia and Sasha is their grandmother, Marian Robinson, who will live in the White House at least temporarily.

Before long, Michelle Obama can be expected to mold the position of first lady to fit her style.

She has expressed an interest in helping women do better at juggling their careers and families, as she herself has done; working with military families, many of whom are doing the same balancing act; education and community service.

"She's not going to all of a sudden forget what she's seen and heard and witnessed in her two years on the campaign trail with Barack Obama and will not avoid the opportunity to be heard on important issues," said Harvard law professor Charles Ogletree, a longtime friend. "She will be a voice."


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Comments are posted from viewers like you and do not always reflect the views of this station.
  • by Blog Refuter Location: NC on Jan 28, 2009 at 07:27 PM
    Case closed.
  • by Tad Location: Jamesville on Jan 28, 2009 at 07:32 AM
    You keep giving, refluter. They are people who will keep taking from bleeding hearts and the government for all of their lives. They don't try to help themselves and they never will as long as somebody will give them something. Education is free to them, to include college, quotas gaurantee jobs, welfare programs gaurantee good standards of living and yet they still have their hand out, wanting more. Food banks providing food that should have been purchased with the food stamp funds that were traded for crack, alcohol and cigarettes. Emergency rooms full of gun shot victims and people with head colds (because it's free to them). Jails full of misunderstood young men because they claim they weren't given enough by the system. The whole mess is pathetic refluter, and will never change as long as apoligists keep trying to make up for injustices that have been paid for a thousand and one times. Keep spinning your tales, flute, you are expected to, just like a 6 yr old will sneak a cookie.
  • by Blog Refuter Location: NC on Jan 27, 2009 at 06:57 PM
    I meant Princeton. Not Harvard! Harvard was law school.
  • by Blog Refuter Location: NC on Jan 27, 2009 at 06:56 PM
    Who is Michelle Obama? Well, she is a lady who while attending Harvard University, was told by another young lady's mom that her daughter could not room with her because of her race. Now, after Michelle has become the first lady, the "would have been" roommate called to apologize. Hmm. Let's make up. Can I stay in the White House? Get real, chick! Apology accepted, but don't think we're gonna be cool like that. lol. I can hear Michelle now.
  • by Blog Refuter Location: NC on Jan 27, 2009 at 10:24 AM
    Give me the secret service, and I'll give them care packages and attempt to speak of Jesus with them. Some areas you're just not suppose to go in alone. I recently went to an Atlanta neighborhood and handed out care packages and had spiritual conversations with some of the people in residing there. I found them to be very honest and willing to admit of their wrongdoings. It's a tough life for some of them. Most of them really have no source of inspiration; and that's a pity. Never have I said you must go lurking in the ghettos. I just think that people should be more empathetic and sensitive to the needs of others. That's how a real Christian lives. If you'll look around, most professed Christians are living nothing like Jesus. Jesus was always with the lowly and weak people. He was meek and humble. Although he was the son of God, he didn't let it get to his head. I think if we really want to live the life that God has called us to live, we should look to Jesus as our example.
  • by Tad Location: Jamesville on Jan 27, 2009 at 08:54 AM
    Oh come on refluter, practice what you preach. Those people are harmless, they are victims of circumstance or "the system" or something. Go visit with those poor misunderstood souls.
  • by Blog Refuter Location: NC on Jan 26, 2009 at 08:20 PM
    Tad, if I were to go to Charlotte, I would stay with my cousin and her family in their nice, comfy house. The closest I'll go to West Charlotte would be to Northwest School of the Arts; and that would be to visit family. I don't go to the ghetto, so no worries. However, at present, I have classes to attend and work to do.
  • by Tad Location: Jamesville on Jan 26, 2009 at 05:51 PM
    Refluter, just relax and go and take a nice slow casual walk, in west Charlotte. See ya if ya get back.
  • by Blog Refuter Location: NC on Jan 26, 2009 at 02:45 PM
    Cuckoo. Cuckoo. Cuckoo. Tad, I believe one of your own is calling you!
  • by Tad Location: Jamesville on Jan 25, 2009 at 05:54 AM
    Refluter, you worry me with this desire to have someone dominate you. Are you sure this isn't indicative of a more broad yearning? I guess you are the Beta to the Alpo females Alpha. Don't be presumptuous fluter, you may keep people in a feel good stupor long enough to push that fraud over the top again but count on it. Well, the American people as a general rule are stupid, they proved it by electing an unqualified Chicago steet hustler in the first place, so I guess you can count on it.
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