Beyond the Title of First Lady

With every move President Obama makes there are always members of his White House team standing close behind, calling shots and assisting toward a goal. In the sidelines of this never-ending political game stands one player eager to jump in: Michelle.

For years, the role of the First Lady has essentially been a ceremonial title similar to that of the Royal Family. As Americans, we expect our First Lady to quietly stand behind her husband and smile. Year after year she is expected to host luncheons or speak out in support of charitable causes, but never is she asked to play a greater role.

Much like Hilary Clinton and Eleanor Roosevelt, Michelle Obama refused to be a politically inactive First Lady. As a graduate of Harvard Law School it would be almost shameful to see her forced into the limited and remedial role of organizing luncheons on the South Lawn. Though she has hosted events such as he husband’s 50th birthday party, the First Lady has certainly reached beyond the title of party planner.

Upon her husband winning the 2008 presidential election, Michelle made it clear that she would not easily comply with the demands set forth by the West Wing advisers. Though it was customary for the entire First Family to move into the White House soon after inauguration, Michelle questioned the quickness of the move for fear of disturbing her daughters’ school year. Though she eventually decided to move with Barack in order to maintain family unity, this was the beginning of an uneasy relationship between the East and West Wings. In the spring of 2009, Michelle wanted to play as big of a role as she possibly could in favor of the health care reform bill; however, White House advisers, including former Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, were not keen to the idea for fear of her creating an unfavorable public image. It was clear that she had an uneasy relationship with the former Chief of Staff, and Press Secretary Robert Gibbs after voicing her opinions about the way the White House was being run. The First Lady engaged in a tense relationship with her husband’s advisers as she expressed her concern about their effectiveness to her personal aides.

Though presidential aides attempted to calm her actions in support of the health care reform bill, Michelle did not let petty White House feuds dissuade her from being an active First Lady. In her years at the White House she has strongly supported military families and participated in community service as well as taking initiative in the fight against childhood obesity.

In February 2010, Michelle launched the nationwide “Let’s Move!” program.  Under Michelle’s watch, “Let’s Move!” has made significant strides in providing healthier food and exercise options for children across the nation. “Let’s Move!” has partnered with Fruit and Vegetable Alliance, the Food, Family and Farming Foundation as well as the United Fresh Produce Association in order to provide 6,000 salad bars in schools across the United States. Corporations such as Disney, the NHL, the NFL and the MLB have teamed up with “Let’s Move!” to promote sports and exercise in the lives of American children.

Though her advocacy for health care and children’s health are clear, Michelle’s actions in the White House have certainly not ended there.

In her time as First Lady, Michelle has never forgotten her duty to her daughters and husband; additionally, she has also grown to serve her country as well.

Whether it is through voicing her opinions on the White House staff, her ideals regarding a proposed legislation, creating volunteer programs or her choice in fashion, Michelle Obama has refused to be a political wife standing on the side lines and will continue to earn her place next to Eleanor, Jackie and Hilary as a notable woman in America.

Sarah Menendez is a first-year political science major. She can be reached at smenende@uci.edu.