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Obama Marriage in NYT Magazine, Michelle Obama in Glamour

5 years ago
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The Obama marriage -- analyzed and parsed -- is the subject of a New York Times Magazine Sunday cover story, with the First Couple sitting down in the Oval Office with reporter Jodi Kantor to talk about their relationship, which is presumably at a high point because they are living under the same roof full time for the first time since 1996.

On another front, First Lady Michelle Obama, adding mentoring to her portfolio, is on the cover of the new Glamour magazine, where she offers dating advice to women and poses with her East Wing interns. "Cute," said Mrs. Obama to women hunting for partners, "only lasts for so long." CBS anchor Katie Couric did the interview.

If you are wondering whether that red dress Mrs. Obama is wearing on the cover was a frock Glamour sent over, the answer is no. Mrs. Obama's spokeswoman, Catherine McCormick-Lelyveld, told me Wednesday that the first lady wears only her own clothes for photo shoots.

The Obamas offer candor tempered with caution -- no need for Mrs. Obama to reprise her riff about her husband's bad breath in The Times -- in talking about how 10 months in the White House has impacted their union. In a pre-emptive move, President Obama wrote about some of the low points of their marriage in his 2007 bestseller, "The Audacity of Hope." But he left room for Kantor to fill in a lot of blanks. Kantor was the co-writer of a recent Times story about Mrs. Obama's ancestral roots and has written extensively about the personal lives of the Obamas. The Kantor keeper question: "How can a couple have a truly equal partnership when one member is president?"

Writes Kantor: "Michelle Obama gave what sounded like a small, sharp 'mmphf' of recognition, and the fluid teamwork of their answers momentarily came to a halt. 'Well, first of all . . . ' The president started. His wife peered at him, looking curious as to how he might answer the question. 'She's got . . . ' He began, but then stopped again. 'Well, let me be careful about this,' he said, pausing more than once. 'My staff worries a lot more about what the first lady thinks than they worry about what I think,' he finally said, to laughter around the room."

A lot has been written about how Mrs. Obama was a reluctant campaigner and that during her husband's tenure as an Illinois state senator she resented his time away from home, where she was tending to two young daughters. Kantor asked Obama if he ever sought counseling, and the answers from the couple are, to my reading, inconclusive. Before I get deeper into her story, I'd be remiss if I didn't toot Politics Daily's own horn for a moment: Melinda Henneberger, our editor-in-chief, wrote extensively about the Obama marriage two years ago this week, in a two-part, 6,000 word series that holds up quite well, thank you. If you can't wait for the new NYT or Glamour pieces, Melinda's stories can be found here and here.

Two years later, Mr. and Mrs. Obama are the actual First Couple, so interest in this subject is nearly universal. Here are a string of items about the Obamas in Jodi Kantor's piece that struck me as significant:

-- They exercise together in the morning and don't start public events until 9 or 10 a.m.

-- The White House residence has just been redecorated. Obama helped picked colors and patterns.

-- The president privately mulled over Supreme Court appointees with Mrs. Obama.

-- Obama's wedding ring is "an intricate gold design from Indonesia, where he had lived as a boy." Mrs. Obama's ring is traditional.

-- For Mrs. Obama's 44th birthday -- occurring during the presidential campaign -- he asked one of her staffers, Melissa Winter, to handle getting her gift, a silver pendant necklace, properly wrapped.

-- When Mrs. Obama was in a rough patch during the campaign, what with her patriotism being questioned and all, Obama "met with Fox executives Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes in part to insist that they treat her more respectfully."

--- White House residence staff last spring wanted to give Malia and Sasha cellphones; Mrs. Obama refused the offer.

Quotes and insights I found noteworthy:

-- Friend Valerie Jarrett, a pal to both Obamas and now a White House senior adviser, told Kantor how the Obamas differ. "He's more of a pragmatist." Mrs. Obama "takes a very principled position and she thinks everyone should do the right thing."

-- Obama half sister Maya Soetoro, on what her sister-in-law brought to Obama's career: "forward propulsion."

-- We've known that Mrs. Obama felt she was ill advised during the campaign and that's why she got into some jams. We've known she worried on the campaign trail that she might be a liability. Kantor fleshes this out. At one point, Mrs. Obama raised the question of whether she should cease campaigning. Jarrett told Kantor, "She felt she had not gotten support." Said pal Susan Sher, Mrs. Obama's chief of staff, "She was hurt at the idea that it was possible she wouldn't be an asset."

-- Sher is Mrs. Obama's second chief of staff and she was elevated to underscore the role, power and impact of Mrs. Obama's East Wing. "Initially, her office was seen as so peripheral by some in the West Wing that one aide referred to it as Guam: pleasant but powerless."

-- Mrs. Obama, who talks about her every woman-ness, could find "her regular-person credentials . . . may now be expiring,'' what with a personal trainer, a stylist, chefs and gardeners.

The White House gig, notes Kantor, will last only four or eight years, and the Obamas will have many more years to negotiate the relationship. So that's why Mrs. Obama's quote in the Glamour story seems apt when she is offering dating advice for women. Perhaps she is also talking about her own experience, since Obama was the only man she was ever serious about.

Her Glamour quote is worth reprising -- in full: "Cute's good. But cute only lasts for so long, and then it's, 'Who are you as a person?' Don't look at the bank book or the title. Look at the heart. Look at the soul. . . . When you're dating a man, you should always feel good. . . . You shouldn't be in a relationship with somebody who doesn't make you completely happy and make you feel whole."

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