10 Points Cheat Sheet from ‘The Obamas’ by Jodi Kantor

  on January 12 2012 11:17 AM
The Obamas
"The Obamas" by Jodi Kantor looks at the couple's time in the White House. Reuters

The Obamas by Jodi Kantor, released on Jan. 10 by publisher Little, Brown and Company, unveils the first couple's time in the White House so far. The book delves into the difficult adjustments they had to make, particularly the First Lady's adjustment to her new role.

White House associate communications director Eric Schultz commented on the book in a White House blog post titled Gossip in Wonderland, and wrote that the relationship between the East and West wings was not accurately portrayed.

The book is about a relationship between two people whom the author has not spoken to in years, Schultz wrote. In fact, the author did not interview the Obamas for the book so the emotions and private moments described in the book, though often seemingly ascribed to the President and First Lady, reflect little more than the author's own thoughts.

The first lady also addressed certain points brought up in the book, particularly the allegedly tense relationship between her and her husband's former chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel. Rahm and I have never had a cross word, she said in a CBS interview with Gayle King.

Here are 10 major points from The Obamas.

Keeping it classy

Kantor wrote that Michelle Obama was keen on using image to advantage, an idea that extended to bringing hair and makeup assistants on trips abroad and hiring an established decorator for the family's private quarters. She was also acutely aware that she and her family were the country's, and the world's, most important African American role models, Kantor wrote. Changing stereotypes was part of why the Obamas had run in the first place, part of why she wanted everything to look as beautiful and refined as possible.

Adjusting to White House life

Adjusting to life in the White House and Washington, DC wasn't easy for the first family. They were keen on going back to their home in Chicago for regular respites from the public eye, but security proved to be such a problem that the idea was axed. A weekend trip back to Chicago would require weeks of preparations by staff members, another set of staff on the ground, a virtual blockade of the neighborhood, and considerable outlays of personal and federal funds, Kantor wrote.

Michelle Obama's mother, Marian Robinson, keeps a low profile

The first lady's mother enjoys remaining as low-key as possible. Per Kantor, she even refused to let White House staff members do her laundry. She became her granddaughters' escort, riding with them to and from school and browsing in stores with them as agents tagged behind, doing everything with them that their confined parents could not, Kantor wrote. Marian refused to do anything that could compromise her freedom, because without her, Malia and Sasha would lead far narrower lives.

A first lady with a mission

Michelle Obama made it clear early on that she wasn't going to attend unmemorable events, according to Kantor. She wanted everything to be strategic, to accomplish a concrete goal, and she was especially vigilant about the use of her time: if she was going to an event, it had to be good enough to justify hours away from her family, Kantor wrote.

Michelle Obama and Rahm Emanuel

The first lady, apparently, wasn't too keen on putting herself out there for the midterm elections, particularly after her experiences during the 2008 campaign, Kantor wrote. Emanuel found this maddening, Kantor wrote, as the first lady's support was considered needed in order to win. She did not want to put herself on the line for members of Congress she knew little about and might not agree with, Kantor wrote. Her message carried an implicit critique, too: she thought the West Wing was too disorganized; that they didn't plan well enough.

The Salahis come to dinner

The hullabaloo caused by White House state dinner crashers Michaele and Tareq Salahi in late November 2009 pretty much ruined Christmas, Kantor wrote. The East Wing was supposed to be the fun part of the White House, and the first lady hated the idea that an unforced error partly under her management had cost the administration weeks of negative press. The gate-crashing incident also supplied new grist for her fears about safety; what was the point of living in virtual lockdown if anyone could slip through?

On illegal immigration

The famous May 2010 incident in which a Maryland second grader told Michelle Obama that her own mother didn't have documentation motivated the president to make another push for immigration reform. He had been saying for a long time that he wanted to give a speech on the issue that was as frank and stirring as the famous speech about race he had given during the campaign, and he decided that now was the time, Kantor wrote.

But not so fast...

Emanuel allegedly thought it was bad timing for such a speech due to the lack of enthusiasm on the issue and the recent passage of Arizona's new immigration laws. Stirring up such a charged issue before the midterms was asking for trouble, especially for vulnerable Democrats, and it could make the president look weak, by proposing something he could not deliver, Kantor wrote.

Doing it anyway

The president would rework drafts of an immigration speech his staff prepared for him. The speech ended up falling flat, and the first couple, especially the first lady, were reportedly upset and believed more could have been done to help him deliver a strong message on this particular issue. Besides, if he was the president of the United States, why was he up all night writing his own speech? Kantor wrote. The speech incident confirmed her worst fears, and by that point, several aides said, Michelle was bluntly telling her husband that he needed a new team.

A more confident Commander-in-Chief

Kantor wrote that aides observed higher levels of confidence in the president after his midterm defeat. He even reportedly became more comfortable with the political aspects of the job -- ie wooing and connecting - and more competitive. He no longer repeated his claims from a year or so earlier: that he and the first lady were fine with one term, that he was going to make the right decisions regardless of the political cost, Kantor wrote. Now his language shifted: there was no way he was letting a Republican win the 2012 race, he told advisers.

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