All the grace of Jacqueline Kennedy, the intelligence of Eleanor Roosevelt, and a sense of humour unprecedented in a First Lady … that is Michelle Obama. She has maintained consistently high approval ratings throughout her nearly eight years in the White House and is seen as approachable, intellectual, compassionate, and down-to-earth. She has one of the highest approval ratings of almost any First Lady in modern times: 94% among Democrats, and even 64% among Republicans.
Ms. Obama will leave the White House in January 2017, but she will leave behind a legacy such as few First Ladies of the past have done.
- She has been an active leader of the fight for better nutrition. In 2010, she launched Let’s Move!, bringing together community leaders, educators, medical professionals, parents, and others in a nationwide effort to address the challenge of childhood obesity. Whether it’s providing healthier food in our schools, helping kids be more physically active, or urging companies to market healthier foods to our children, Let’s Move! is focused on giving parents the support they need to make healthier choices for their kids.
- In 2011, Ms. Obama and Dr. Jill Biden came together to launch Joining Forces, a nationwide initiative calling all Americans to rally around service members, veterans, and their families and support them through wellness, education, and employment opportunities.
- In 2014, Ms. Obama launched the Reach Higher Initiative, an effort to inspire young people across America to take charge of their future by completing their education past high school, whether at a professional training program, a community college, or a four-year college or university.
- In 2015, Ms. Obama joined President Obama to launch Let Girls Learn, a U.S. government-wide initiative to help girls around the world go to school and stay in school. As part of this effort, Mrs. Obama is calling on countries across the globe to help educate and empower young women. “Our goal is to make sure that every girl on the planet gets the opportunity our girls get.”
- In addition to the above programs, Michelle Obama is seen as human. She has made her number one priority raising her daughters, tough enough under normal circumstances, but in the limelight and under the watchful eye of the media, a monumental task. She is supportive of her husband, yet not in a subservient way, as an equal partner in their marriage.
Despite all that, the First Lady has seen her share of controversy and criticism since President Obama’s inauguration in January 2009.
- During President Obama’s first address to Congress in February 2009, the First Lady was criticized by conservatives and the media for wearing a sleeveless dress. Later that month, this appeared in the New York Times:
- “It is February and Washington is freezing, but in appearance after appearance, the first lady displays her long, muscular arms. She is sleeveless on the cover of the new Vogue, she was sleeveless when she discussed menus on Sunday in the White House kitchen, and last night she was sleeveless again, in the House chamber for her husband’s first address to Congress. (All of the other women in the room seemed to be wearing long sleeves; a few even wore turtlenecks).”
- In February 2012, in response to a friendly, all-in-good-fun challenge from television host Ellen DeGeneres, Michelle Obama did a series of push-ups … six more than Ellen was able to do, as it happened. But her detractors were not amused.
- “She doesn’t look or act. I mean, can you imagine you know, Kennedys or the Bushes or anybody doing pushups on the floor? I mean you know. That’s just not a first lady.”
- Rush Limbaugh (former Idiot of the Week) has seemingly made her one of his favourite targets:
- “Michelle Obama is on a roll. She is playing the race card; she’s doubling down on it.” He went on to describe her as angry and complaining.
- “I’m trying to say that our First Lady does not project the image of women that you might see on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, or of a woman Alex Rodriguez might date every six months or what have you. I mean, women are under constant pressure to look lithe, and Michelle My Belle is out there saying if you eat the roots and tree bark and the berries and all this cardboard stuff you will live longer, be healthier and you won’t be obese.”
I suspect that much of the criticism of the First Lady has been an extension of criticism of her husband, and yes, to a certain extent the colour of her skin. I also believe that were she not such an obviously good mother, good wife, dedicated to causes involving families, women and children, she would have come under far greater criticism than she has. Think about it … the four greatest criticisms are that she wore sleeveless dresses (so did Jackie Kennedy, but people must have forgotten that), did push-ups, encourages healthy eating, and mentioned race during a college graduation speech. Wow – what a hussy, huh? I will stop short of mentioning the wife of a current presidential candidate, who actually posed nude or nearly nude many times …
I came across an interesting tidbit a few days ago:
The First to Sell White House Manure for Cash: Mary Todd Lincoln (First Lady, 1861-1865). During Abe’s re-election campaign in 1864, Mary Todd Lincoln had run up tens of thousands of dollars in department store debt. Should Abe win, she could sit on the expenses for a while. But should he lose, the couple’s transformation into ordinary citizens would leave her no option but to tell him. And, as it turned out, Mary knew all too well how Abe would react to her spending habits. When she had overspent the congressional appropriation for White House furnishings within months of moving into the mansion, it left Abe fuming. So, rather than turning to her husband for financial aid, Mary resorted to more creative tactics, such as selling off excess manure purchased for the fertilization of White House grounds and firing some of the mansion’s staff.
Can you imagine if Michelle Obama had done that???
I believe Michelle Obama will be remembered as a lady of grace and dignity, I believe she will be remembered for her passion regarding humanitarian issues and her sense of humour when under fire. I, for one, have tremendous respect and admiration for First Lady Obama and will be sad to see her leave. Thank you, Ms. Michelle Obama for eight years of service to our nation.