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There is more to being a presidential wife than what the media lets on. Newscasters and talk show hosts often highlight images of a smiling woman striding confidently on stage, or one who speaks with grace about her own sponsored initiatives.
However, in the midst of the First Lady’s daily life, these moments tend to become lost among the many instances when she sometimes struggles for her husband’s attention amongst the pressing needs of his staff members, or even the times when she feels trapped between having to impress both her husband and the individuals who admire her.
Feelings like these can wreak havoc on what can otherwise be a stable union between two individuals, and they tend to go unnoticed by most outsiders. However, Jodi Kantor, a New York Times reporter, sought to investigate what occurs behind the scenes of what appears to be a picturesque relationship between President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle.
Kantor, who had been covering the Obamas for five years, documented the experiences of her work in her book, “The Obamas” and discussed those results before an appreciative audience at Books & Books in Coral Gables, Fla., on February 14.
A recurring theme present during her address to the audience was how time in the White House fundamentally changed the dynamics of Barack and Michelle’s relationship. According to Kantor, obtaining the opportunity to live in the White House represented a shift for the couple as they went against the norm often in their actions.
“Entering the White House represented a radical transformation for the Obamas,” Kantor pointed out, “these two individuals were thrust into a world that was not natural to them.”
This transformation served as a focal point for Kantor’s analysis of the Obamas in the White House. In learning about this transformation for her book, she interviewed 33 aides and staff members. Throughout this process, she wanted to figure out the parts of their lives that remained theirs, and which parts would become absorbed through life in Washington, D.C.
“I really wanted to know how the Obamas coped, as well as the effect that all of this new power and influence had on them,” she explained to the audience. As she continued her research on the Obamas, Kantor made a singular realization about White House life. “I first recognized that there is a profound isolation that exists when you enter the White House,” she explained.
“It is very contradictory; you may be elected to lead the country, but you have to leave it behind as well.” She supported this point by mentioning that the president possesses a fake Blackberry for security reasons, as well as the challenges that her children faced when it came to trick or treating on Halloween night.
Kantor noted that this isolation makes it very difficult for the president to determine whom to trust. In many cases, people will refrain from telling him the truth for fear of offending him. One person who the president is always able to be honest with, Kantor noted, is his spouse. Expanding on this, Kantor mentioned that President Obama often shares information with his spouse, and that she has stood by him on key issues, particularly when it came to health care and immigration reform.
However, having a spouse with that much influence can be a challenge when it comes to personal dynamics; for instance, Kantor described the First Lady as “the keeper of the Obama mission” who enjoys significant influence in the president’s life, even though it may appear that she has to compete for his ear against his advisors.
These challenges are the most apparent when facing criticism from outside sources. Kantor noted that since most media outlets and individuals are already critical of President Obama’s actions, it becomes especially challenging when it’s time for the president’s spouse to weigh in. She then said that in these situations, it should be acceptable for the individual closest to the president to give their opinions on the situation at hand.
As the evening progressed, Kantor introduced her grandmother to the stage and took questions from the audience. Most of the queries centered on the impressions that she obtained through her time spent covering the Obamas in Washington.
In answering, she focused on the inherent challenges that presidents face when they first assume office, the difficulties associated with obtaining access to key political figures in Washington, and the fact that despite the media criticism she has received regarding the portrayals of the First Family, the book itself has been thoroughly fact-checked.
The event concluded with a standing ovation and Kantor taking the opportunity to sign books for eager audience members. While it is unknown what opinions these individuals will have once they read the book for themselves, it is hoped that the following quote stated by Kantor will prove helpful as they flip through its pages.
In reading my book, I hope that you end up asking yourself how you would handle the situations that the Obamas faced.