Valerie Jarrett's Inside Take on First Lady Michelle Obama

The senior adviser to the president says Michelle Obama wants her legacy to be making a difference.

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Mrs. Obama extracted a promise from the president, then a candidate, that he would quit smoking if he was going to run. Where's that right now?


He's done really well. In the 20 years I've known him, I have never once seen him smoke. Is he still using Nicorette?


He is. That I do see, him chewing the gum, which probably helps a great deal. A Gallup Poll in June 2008 said that 43 percent of people viewed Mrs. Obama favorably. Now it's 72 percent. How did she manage the turnaround?


It wasn't a turnaround. It was just people getting to know her. To know Michelle is to love Michelle. Earlier, when reporters would ask questions about her, I would just say, "Just give her time." She was a complete unknown on the national stage when she first came out in support of the president. What has been her biggest challenge?


The challenge for them both is that you really do give up your life in terms of privacy and spontaneity, so you have to really work hard to have some degree of normalcy. I mean, Michelle now can't just decide, "Oh, I think I'm going to the bookstore and browse for a while," which is something that both she and the president used to like to do. You probably don't even think about going to a bookstore. Or a grocery store. Or a florist. Just a walk in the park with your children holding hands is now televised around the world. One woman told me she preferred a "Laura Bush type: a gentle, wind-beneath-my-wings type." Are such expectations a burden?


Michelle doesn't spend a lot of time worrying about the scrutiny. She worries about things that she can control. So all she's going to do is to continue to be herself. She is going to dress the way she wants to dress, and she's going to be who she is, and she's going to get involved in the kinds of issues that she cares about, and my guess is the vast majority of people are going to find that endearing and terrific. Part of what has made the president and first lady so immensely able to connect with people is that they are for real. One of the requirements of being for real is to be for real. It doesn't mean every single person is going to like every single thing you do. I saw the Stevie Wonder tribute at the White House on PBS. The president and first lady exuded joy.


They had a ball that night. It was just pure fun. Michelle is a huge fan of Stevie Wonder. I can remember the first time that the president had Stevie Wonder speak to Michelle on the phone, she was just all atwitter. He's been a huge supporter and a great friend over the course of the campaign and now in the administration. What would Mrs. Obama like as her legacy?


That she made a positive difference in many lives—and she's already done that, so that impact will only grow with time.

  • See a photo gallery of Michelle Obama.
  • See a photo gallery of the Obama family.