Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama (born January 17, 1964) is an American lawyer and the wife of Illinois Senator Barack Obama, the 2008 Democratic nominee for President. She was born and grew up on the South Side of Chicago and graduated from Princeton University and Harvard Law School. After completing her formal education, she returned to Chicago and went to work for the law firm Sidley Austin, on the staff of the Mayor of Chicago Richard M. Daley, and for the University of Chicago and the University of Chicago Hospitals.
She met Barack when he went to work for Sidley Austin. The Obamas live on Chicago's South Side, choosing to remain there rather than moving to Washington, D.C.
At Princeton, she challenged the teaching methodology for French because she felt that it should be more conversational. As part of her requirements for graduation, she wrote a thesis entitled, "Princeton-Educated Blacks and the Black Community. She obtained her Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree from Harvard Law School in 1988. While at Harvard, she participated in political demonstrations advocating the hiring of professors who are members of minorities.
She met Barack Obama when they were the only two African Americans at their law firm and she was assigned to mentor him while he was a summer associate. Their relationship started with a business lunch and then a community organization meeting where he first impressed her. The couple's first date was to the Spike Lee movie Do the Right Thing. The couple married in October 1992, and they have two daughters, Malia Ann (born 1998) and Natasha (known as Sasha) (born 2001). Throughout her husband's 2008 campaign for President of the United States, she has made a "commitment to be away overnight only once a week — to campaign only two days a week and be home by the end of the second day" for their two children.
She once requested that Barack, who was then her fiancé, meet her prospective boss, Valerie Jarrett, when considering her first career move. Now, Jarrett is one of her husband’s closest advisors. Early in the presidential race, Michelle Obama did not portray herself as an advisor to her husband. In fact, she was quoted in interviews saying "My job is not a senior adviser."
In 1996, Obama served as the Associate Dean of Student Services at the University of Chicago, where she developed the University's Community Service Center. In 2002, she began working for the University of Chicago Hospitals, first as executive director for community affairs and, beginning May, 2005, as Vice President for Community and External Affairs. She still holds the position, though she is working part time in order to devote more time to being a mother.
With the ascent of her husband as a prominent national politician, she has become a part of pop culture. In May 2006, Essence magazine listed her among "25 of the World's Most Inspiring Women." In July 2007, Vanity Fair magazine listed her among "10 of the World's Best Dressed People." In September 2007, 02138 magazine listed her 58th of "The Harvard 100," a list of the prior year's most influential Harvard University alumni. Her husband was ranked fourth.
She served as a salaried board member of TreeHouse Foods, Inc. a major Wal-Mart supplier with whom she cut ties immediately after her husband made comments critical of Wal-Mart at an AFL-CIO forum in , on May 14, 2007. She serves on the board of directors of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.
According to the couple’s 2006 income tax return, Michelle's salary was $273,618 from the University of Chicago Hospitals, while he had a salary of $157,082 from the United States Senate. The total Obama income, however, was $991,296 including $51,200 she earned as a member of the board of directors of TreeHouse Foods, plus investments and royalties from his books.
Obama has accepted the invitation of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated to become an honorary member.
In May 2007, three months after her husband declared his presidential candidacy, she reduced her professional responsibilities by eighty percent to support his presidential campaign. Early in the campaign, she had limited involvement in which she traveled to political events only two days a week and stayed away from home nights only if their daughters could come along. In early February 2008, she attended thirty-three events in eight days. Obama has made at least two campaign appearances with Oprah Winfrey.
In 2007, Michelle gave political stump speeches for her husband's presidential campaign at various locations in the United States. Jennifer Hunter of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote about one speech of hers in Iowa, "Michelle was a firebrand, expressing a determined passion for her husband's campaign, talking straight from the heart with eloquence and intelligence." She employs an all-female staff of aides for her political role. She says that she negotiated an agreement in which her husband gave up smoking in exchange for her support as a Presidential aspirant. About her role in her husband's presidential campaign she has said: "My job is not a senior adviser." During the campaign, she has discussed race and education by using motherhood as a framework.
This is her first election year on the national political scene and even before the field of Democratic candidates was narrowed to two she was considered the least famous of the candidates' spouses. Early in the campaign, she exhibited her ironic humor and told anecdotes about the Obama family life. However, as the press began to emphasize her sarcasm, which did not translate well in the print media, she has toned it down. In a press account of her sarcasm, The New York Times op-ed columnist Maureen Dowd said: “I wince a bit when Michelle Obama chides her husband as a mere mortal — comic routine that rests on the presumption that we see him as a god ... But it may not be smart politics to mock him in a way that turns him from the glam JFK into the mundane Gerald Ford, toasting his own English muffin. If all Senator Obama is peddling is the Camelot mystique, why debunk this mystique?”
Asked in February 2008 whether she could see herself "working to support" Hillary Clinton if she got the nomination, Michelle said "I'd have to think about that. I'd have to think about policies, her approach, her tone." When questioned about this by the interviewer, however, she stated "You know, everyone in this party is going to work hard for whoever the nominee is."
Despite her criticisms of Clinton during the 2008 campaign, when asked in 2004 which political spouse she admired, Obama cited Hillary Clinton, stating, "She is smart and gracious and everything she appears to be in public — someone who's managed to raise what appears to be a solid, grounded child.
Throughout the campaign, the media have often labeled Obama as an "angry black woman, causing her to respond: "Barack and I have been in the public eye for many years now, and we've developed a thick skin along the way. When you’re out campaigning, there will always be criticism. I just take it in stride, and at the end of the day, I know that it comes with the territory. By the time of the 2008 Democratic National Convention in August, media outlets observed Obama's presence on the campaign trailer had grown softer than at the start of the race, focusing on soliciting concerns and empathizing with audience rather than throwing down challenges to them, and giving interviews to shows like The View and publications like Ladies' Home Journal rather than appearing on news programs. The change was even reflected in her fashion choices, with Obama wearing more and more sundresses in place of her previous designer pieces.
Michelle Obama spoke on the first night of the 2008 Democratic National Convention on August 25, during which she sought to portray herself and her family as the embodiment of the American Dream. She described Barack as a family man and herself as no different from many women; she also spoke about the backgrounds that she and her husband came from. Obama said both she and her husband believed "that you work hard for what you want in life, that your word is your bond, and you do what you say you're going to do, that you treat people with dignity and respect, even if you don't know them, and even if you don't agree with them." She also emphasized her love of country, in response to criticism for her previous statements about feeling proud of her country for the first time. Her daughters joined her on the stage after the speech and greeted their father, who appeared on the overhead video screen.
The speech was largely well received and drew mostly positive reviews. Political commentator Andrew Sullivan described it as "one of the best, most moving, intimate, rousing, humble, and beautiful speeches I've heard from a convention platform." Ezra Klein of The American Prospect, described it as a "beautifully delivered, and smartly crafted, speech" and described Obama as "coming off as wholesome and, frankly, familiar." Katherine Marsh of The New Republic, however, said she missed "the old Michelle... not the Stepford wife fist-bumping Elisabeth Hasselbeck, but the sassy better half who reminded us that while Barack was the answer, he was also stinky in the morning and forgot to put the butter away. She both affirmed his promise and humanized him. Jason Zengerle, also of The New Republic, said Obama should have emphasized her professional and educational achievements as well as her mother, daughter and sister qualities; Zengerle wrote, "It almost makes you long for the days when politicians' wives were seen but not heard. After all, if they're not permitted to really say anything, what's the point of having them speak.