Posted by: Ann Corcoran | January 7, 2012

Is Michelle the driving force in the White House?

A new book on the Obamas will be released on Tuesday and the White House isn’t very happy about it.

The official line is that much of what New York Times writer and author Jodi Kantor says in ‘The Obamas’ is “old news.”    Based on the snippets of the book published in the NYT, it’s a lot of new news to me!   I’m not saying I’m an expert on Barack and Michelle, but I’ve read six books on Obama (and Michelle) in the last year and although everything reported here sounds like it fits the mold of everything else I’ve read, this is the first I’m hearing Kantor’s news.

And, it sure sounds like it’s been the unelected Michelle pushing for “sweeping change” for America against the concerns of more pragmatic staffers such as the now departed—Gibbs and Emanuel.   In spite of the media image we have been fed of Michelle growing monster sweet potatos in the back yard while doing jumping jacks with the kiddos, this book promises to give us a more complete picture of a first lady NOT in the image of say Laura Bush.

Here is how the Politico story from last evening begins:

In a much-anticipated book about the first couple’s relationship, Michelle Obama emerges as a powerful, behind-the-scenes force committed to keeping President Barack Obama true to his campaign promises and willing to battle his top aides when she believed they were steering him off course.

The book, by Jodi Kantor of The New York Times, reveals the first lady’s deep ambivalence about her role in the White House, portraying her struggle with decisions as basic as whether to stay temporarily in Chicago with her girls after her husband moved into the White House.

It depicts her as the president’s compass on signature issues he pushed for in his 2008 campaign, including immigration and comprehensive health care reform — a constant reminder within the walls of the White House of his liberal vision of change, even as some of the president’s top advisers encouraged him to be more of a political realist.

And it reveals her clashes with senior advisers Rahm Emanuel and Robert Gibbs.

Somebody should write a book on Valerie Jarrett, who by the way was born in Iran. Did you know that?  She has been in the Obama’s lives for a long time having first met Michelle in 1991.  Jarrett of course was in attendance when the Rev. Jeremiah Wright married Barack and Michelle in 1992.  I think Jarrett is a very dangerous person (do you remember that news account where she says proudly that “they” have been watching avowed communist Van Jones’ political development for some time).  I have some sympathy for poor old Gibbs now.

Gibbs, the president’s first press secretary, had an especially rocky relationship with the first lady and Valerie Jarrett, another senior adviser and a longtime friend of the first couple.

Tension, tension, and more tension!

Kantor’s book also details other tense interactions between the East and West Wings.


Though Jarrett or Susan Sher, the first lady’s first chief of staff, usually notified the president’s staff when the first lady had concerns about the president’s schedule, Michelle Obama occasionally sent emails to Alyssa Mastromonaco, the president’s director of scheduling, that “were so stern that Mastromonaco showed them to colleagues, unsure of how to respond to her boss’s wife’s displeasure.” In those instances and in others, aides felt trapped in marital disputes. “You’re unintendedly in the midst of that quarrel even if you don’t have a stake in it,” Gibbs said.

More broadly, those conflicts illustrated strains in a marriage that “was awkward for everyone,” Kantor writes.

The relationship between the president’s staff and the first lady’s was tested repeatedly as she tried to craft a sophisticated image of the nation’s first African-American family in the White House. West Wing advisers worried about the optics of some of her choices amid a high unemployment rate and public outcry over Wall Street bailouts and bonuses.  [I’ve been wondering about this myself—wondering if no one was attempting to tone down her lavish lifestyle, it seems some did try—ed]

That led to an “anxious give-and take” over vacations, decor and even whether the White House would announce that it had hired a new florist. Gibbs worried that the Obamas would be “caricatured,” he told Kantor.

Others close to the Obamas said Gibbs became the “main enforcer” because the president wouldn’t be tough on his wife — he knew she had not embraced life inside the White House and didn’t want to make it any worse.

Michelle not one to suffer in silence.

This next part came through loud and clear in an earlier book on the couple.  Christopher Anderson writing in “Barack and Michelle” (a book also panned by the White House) told us this too.  Politico continues:

The first lady’s complaints about the president and his staff were often the same as “the personal complaints about her husband over the years, including “not planning, not keeping her informed, focusing on his own needs, taking on risky projects without seeing their potential for failure — these were all charges she had leveled against him since the beginning of their union.”

Some readers may laugh and suggest I sound like the National Enquirer of the Tea Party blogger set, but what happens between these two could end up having a greater impact on the 2012 election then whatever the Republican candidates do.   Republican strategists in my view make a huge error in not questioning who is running the country (Barack or Michelle and Valerie) by not trumpeting the very real policy implications of White House back room intrigue.   (We are told that Health care and Immigration are two big issues for Michelle.)

You can bet I will be downloading ‘The Obamas ‘ on Tuesday and cuddling up with my kindle to see what else Kantor has to say.  And, by the way, if a NYT reporter (probably sympathetic to the Obamas) says the sorts of things that have already been attributed to her and the book, imagine what she isn’t saying!

For more on Michelle Obama, perhaps the powerhouse behind a “lazy” Obama, search PTPR for ‘Michelle Obama.’  I’ve written a lot about her.

An afterthought:  No wonder Barack is pining for Reggie.

Update January 8th:  There is more!  Turns out the Obama’s organized a lavish and secret Halloween party in  2009 as the nation suffered in these difficult economic times.  Read all about the Mad-Hatter party, here.  (Hat tip: Judy)



  1. […] author Jodi Kantor whose book, ‘The Obama’s, comes out tomorrow.  (I wrote about it here on […]

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