Years before the Obama presidency, a Harvard Law grad who was committed to making a difference in the community ran a Chicago nonprofit group. No, not him. We’re talking about her, Michelle Obama, whose professional potential matched her husband’s back in the day.
A check of the archives from 1993 to 1995 shows that Michelle Obama and Barack Obama each were quoted in a couple of Chicago Tribune articles related to their separate work lives. Because each was an influential young Chicagoan.
So whatever happened to that impressive couple? Barack Obama, we hear, is active in retirement. Michelle Obama is the rock star now. On Tuesday she headlined at the United Center in an interview appearance with Oprah Winfrey. It was opening night of Obama’s book tour on the day of official publication of her post-White House memoir, “Becoming.”
Born and raised on the South Side, educated at Princeton before Harvard, Michelle Obama went on an extraordinary journey — just not the one she envisioned for herself in 1989 when she was Barack Obama’s mentor at the Chicago law firm Sidley Austin. Behind one door to the future, Michelle Robinson might have spurned his advances and gone on to become a partner at Sidley or taken some other path to becoming a mover or shaker. Things worked out differently because she chose a different door.
According to reviews, Obama writes in “Becoming” about the tension between a professional woman’s desire to “have it all” and the sacrifices a wife and mother must make, in this case in support of a husband with political aspirations. Their marriage struggled at times; counseling helped. Some aspects of her life reflect universal or at least familiar experiences. Others are utterly unique because the Obamas made history as the first African-American family in the White House.
It’s how Michelle Obama fulfilled her responsibilities as first lady while staying true to herself — as a highly educated woman and mom — that makes her a rock star to many Americans. The public saw her pursue causes such as reducing childhood obesity while nurturing her daughters, baring her toned arms and going on date nights with the commander in chief. At every turn she was judged, sometimes harshly, but kept her balance. This was the ultimate in “having it all.”
Less understood were Obama’s opinions and decisions related to public life. That’s because staying guarded while presenting a positive, unified front is part of the job of first lady. That ends for sure with publication of the book and the start of the speaking tour.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE