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The following chronicle of the early life of Michelle Obama owes a great debt to the New Yorker’s profile of Michelle, and countless other articles. Catch up on the first part of our Michelle Obama Journey here.
An American, Chicago-Born
by Alex Carnevale
On their first date, Michelle and Barack saw Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing.
“Michelle’s always been very vocal about anything,” her mother, Marian Robinson said. “If it’s not right, she’s going to say so. When she was at Princeton, her brother”—Craig, now the head basketball coach at Brown, was two years ahead of Michelle—“called me and said, ‘Mom, Michelle’s here telling people they’re not teaching French right.’ She thought the style was not conversational enough. I told him, ‘Just pretend you don’t know her.’ ”
HARVARD LAW: JUST LIKE THE PAPER CHASE
Charming anecdotes about this woman aren’t hard to find. She’s basically a young hot Bill Cosby.
At Harvard, she felt the same racial divide. Verna Williams and Michelle became friends in their first year of law school. She remembers many of their fellow black students worrying that white classmates viewed them as charity cases.
But she suggests Michelle was not among them. “She recognized that she had been privileged by affirmative action and she was very comfortable with that,” Williams recalls.
After rocking Harvard, Michelle went into corporate law. Can you blame her for her current comments about what young people should be doing with their lives?
Luckily enough for her, she got a young person to train as an associate that ended up being Barack Obama.
Michelle did well enough at Harvard to land a job at Sidley & Austin, a blue-chip corporate-law firm in Chicago. She was making good money as an associate on track to becoming a partner. But the work—she was assigned to copyright and trademark cases—was dull. “I didn’t see a whole lot of people who were just thrilled to be there,” she says. “I met people who thought this was a good life. But were people waking up just bounding out of bed to get to work? No.”
Michelle was assigned to advise Barack during a summer job. Michelle’s co-workers warned her that the summer associate was cute. “I figured that they were just impressed with any black man with a suit and a job,” she later told Barack.
Over her protestations—she felt that dating someone she worked with would be “tacky,” her brother recalls—Barack began to court his boss.
barack and michelle during the courtship phase
BANG THE LEADER OF THE FREE WORLD
To have Barack hitting on them 24/7 is the goal of any thinking Miley?.
“I remember that she was tall – almost my height in heels — and lovely, with a friendly, professional manner,” Barack recalls. “Michelle was full of plans that day, on the fast track, with no time, she told me, for distractions – especially men.”
He walked up to her one day and said, “I think we should go out on a date.” She resisted, thinking it was inappropriate.
She dropped her guard after he asked her to go to one of his community-organizing sessions in a church basement, where he delivered a stemwinding speech about closing the gap between what he called “the world as it is, and the world as it should be.”
If I tried to pull that kind of a stunt on some chick, it would not work as effectively. That’s The Game on another level. That’s the real game, when Barack Obama speechifies solely for your benefit.
“She took me to one or two parties,” Barack writes, “tactfully overlooking my limited wardrobe, and she even tried to set me up with a couple of her friends.”Before the end of the summer, he’d got her to agree to go out for a movie—Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing”—and an ice-cream cone at Baskin-Robbins. Vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard in 2004, Barack met Spike Lee at a reception. As Michelle has recalled, he told Lee, “I owe you a lot,” because, during the movie, Michelle had allowed him to touch her knee.
Movie and an ice-cream cone? Sometimes us young people forget the Obamas are baby boomers, and thus haven’t suffered the internet indignities of Generation Kill. Innocence and naivete paces the chronicles of the time. The only actually dirty things were happening in John Updike novels.
She was smitten. “I was, like, ‘This guy is different’,” she says. ” ‘He is really different, in addition to being nice and funny and cute and all that. He’s got a seriousness and a commitment that you don’t see every day’.” She recalls thinking, ” ‘Well, you know, I’d like to be married to somebody who felt that deeply about things’.” At this, she paused for a second. “Maybe I didn’t say ‘marry.’ Scratch that part. It took him a little while.”
By the time Michelle called Williams to say she was dating someone new, Williams could tell this was something different, something special.
“She said, `Guess what? I’ve got this great guy in my life. His name is Barack,’ ” Williams recalls. “It was clear she was pretty crazy about him.
I’m guessing she wasn’t this suave reformer’s first lay, but she was undoubtedly the best with children.
MEET THE PARENTS
Michelle introduced him to her family. They liked him, but didn’t expect him to last long. Michelle was a demanding girlfriend, always breaking up with one suitor or another, and it was something of a family joke that sooner or later she would toss him overboard, too.
Marian Robinson told me that she did not know that Barack’s mother was white until long after she met him. “He never talked about himself,” she said.
“The first thing I was worried about was, is this poor guy going to make the cut?” says her brother, Craig. “How long is it going to be until he gets fired?” Her mother remembers Obama as quiet and respectful. “He didn’t talk about himself,” she says. “He didn’t tell us that he was running for president of the Harvard Law Review. We never realized that he was as bright as he is.”
Barack had a more bohemian attitude toward romance. “We would have this running debate throughout our relationship about whether marriage was necessary,” Michelle says. “It was sort of a bone of contention, because I was, like, ‘Look, buddy, I’m not one of these who’ll just hang out forever.’ You know, that’s just not who I am. He was, like”—she broke into a wishy-washy voice—“ ‘Marriage, it doesn’t mean anything, it’s really how you feel.’ And I was, like, ‘Yeah, right.’ ”
It’s only a matter of time before Barack-Michelle fan fiction starts hitting the internet, and let’s just hope it’s as exciting as the J.D. Drew – Stephen Drew coupling.
Eventually, he proposed to her over dinner at Gordon, a restaurant in Chicago. “He took me out to a nice dinner under the guise of celebrating the fact that he had finished the bar,” Obama recalled. “And he got me into one of these discussions again, where, you know, he sort of just led me down there and got fired up and it’s like you’ve got blah blah blah blah, and then dessert comes out, the tray comes out, and there’s a ring!”
getting proposed to by the chosen one is so cray cray
Modest beginnings for the power couple:
The couple married in 1992, and moved into a condominium in a walkup building in Hyde Park. Cindy Moelis recalled a dinner party the Obamas gave when they were newlyweds: shrimp-and-pasta, inexpensive art on the walls from their travels to Hawaii and Kenya.
Barack was not the life of the party. “Because Barack was so smart, he was pretty serious when we were in our thirties. I’d poke him and say, ‘Come on, let’s talk about the last movie you saw,’ ” Moelis said. “At some point in our forties, I said to Michelle, ‘You know, I think he’s so much grown into who he is now. He’s so much more lighthearted.’ Because he became a senator and he had this wonderful outlet to be a policy person and to be intense, and when he got home he could relax and laugh and just have dinner with friends and talk about movies and basketball.”
the new yorker article
THE SEVEN HABITS OF HIGHLY EFFECTIVE FIRST LADIES
Last summer, Obama’s mother retired from her job as a bank secretary in order to look after Malia and Sasha when Barack and Michelle are on the road. (The Obamas employ a full-time housekeeper, and Michelle tries to see a personal trainer four times a week, but they do not have a nanny.)
In our conversation, she came across as almost apolitical. I asked her about the first time she voted. “Oh, God, um, I’ve voted every time that I could vote, but I don’t—it doesn’t stand out,” she said. “You know, that was just something you did. You know, you didn’t not vote. But I, you know, it wasn’t like this moving experience for me”—she breathed in dramatically—“ ‘I cast my first vote!’ ”
“There is no difference between the public Michelle and the private Michelle,” says University of Chicago law professor David Strauss, who sits with her on the board of the University of Chicago’s Lab School. There’s no pretense.”
Michelle has the potential to be an icon. She’s stylish and no-nonsense. But this popularity among certain Americans who are already prepared to vote for them is quickly becoming a problem for the Obamas. Sexy vacation photos aren’t helping. While some within the campaign are content to have the Obamas be a glitzy celeb couple, there’s not a whole lot of evidence that the American people want to elect Jennifer Aniston president.
we love chunky barack!
That’s where Michelle Obama can help – there is a very American tendency to be skeptical, and it’s an inborn characteristic in independent voters McCain and Obama wish to sway. Michelle’s first impression of Barack was different from that of his cheeseball celeb friends. She was a skeptic, but she was won over by persistence and committment, along with Barack’s ability to sit and listen. Instead of lecturing the EU, and preaching from a pulpit in Denver, listen to America. Convince the skeptics.
Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.
TLL: One last question, from me. What’s on your iPod?
MO: Oh, gosh. I’m loving Robin Thicke right now. Jill Scott. India.Arie. Love, love, love old school Lauryn Hill. I love good women who can sing, you know?
“U Center Me” – Robin Thicke (mp3)
“Complicated” – Robin Thicke (mp3)
“Education” – Robin Thicke (mp3)
“Cocaine” – Robin Thicke (mp3)
“Teach U A Lesson” – Robin Thicke (mp3)
“Would That Make U Love Me” – Robin Thicke (mp3)
“Lost Without U” – Robin Thicke (mp3)
PREVIOUSLY ON THIS RECORDING
Tess’ favorite television characters.
Rendering it all impotent.
Danish gets halfway through the best tracks of ‘07.
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