This weekend's New York Times Magazine cover story paints a fine-grained portrait of the Obamas, America's most-married powerful couple. And, according to Times political writer Jodi Kantor, this marriage has something important to tell us about Obama's presidency. But what?
...examining the first couple's relationship - their negotiations of public and private life, of conflicts and compromises - offers hints about Barack Obama the president, not just Barack Obama the husband.
Long before many Americans, Michelle Obama was seduced by his mind, his charm, his promise of social transformation; long before he held national office, she questioned whether he really could deliver on all his earnest pledges.For nearly two decades, Michelle Obama has lived with the president of the United States. Now the rest of us do, too
Now that we have been seduced by his mind, we live with Obama. But not in his house. Just metaphorically—in the house of America. So, what can we learn from the Obamas' "negotiations of public and private life... conflicts and compromises" in their real house? Compromise is just another word for "settling," and clearly that's the stage the public is at in its metaphorical relationship with Barack (Which should be followed by a few years of passive-aggressive sniping, followed by a messy divorce in which our children are the only losers.) Then, of course, there was just that big compromise on health care. And in fact the compromises detailed in the Times piece seem as one-sided as Republicans would like to claim that health care one is. Consider the "compromise" that facilitated Barack's 2004 U.S. Senate run:
During that race, Michelle was still a somewhat reluctant partner: at the outset, they made a deal that if he lost, he would get out entirely. "It was a compromise," Marty Nesbitt, one of the president's closest friends, told me. "O.K. One. More. Try," he explained, banging out each word on a side table.
This was not a compromise. This was Barack getting to do what he wants to do, and not doing it if he fails to do it. In the Barack-Michelle household, it seems most of the compromises had a similar sort of uncompromising character. Which is sort of how the bail-out was passed in our house?
Also, now that we all live with Barack we put huge pictures of him and his family all over everything—just like he and Michelle do in their real house:
Here is a shot of the Obamas entering a Cinco de Mayo reception, his arm draped protectively around her back. Next, a photo of the president placing a kiss on his wife's cheek after his address on health care to Congress. Poster-size versions of these and other photographs are displayed in rotation along the White House corridors.
The number of pictures reflects the quantity of our love.
And, living with Barack—at least in the good old days—we would sometimes get sexy with him in a very public way:
Friends who visit the White House describe occasionally turning corners to find the first couple mid-embrace. They also seem unusually willing, for a presidential couple, to kiss, touch and flirt in public. It may be that they are broadcasting their affection to the rest of us, an advertisement of their closeness. Or they may simply be holding tightly to each other as they navigate new and uncertain terrain.
But the most important thing about our lives with Obama is that when things get rough, we don't break down or seek counseling or engage in awesome hate sex. We take it down a notch. We have a teachable moment, like Barack and Michelle did when the stress of Barack's first, failed campaign for U.S. Senate threatened their marriage:
Did you ever seek counseling? I asked.
The first lady looked solemnly at the president. He said: "You know, I mean, I think that it was important for us to work this through. . . . There was no point where I was fearful for our marriage. There were points in time where I was fearful that Michelle just really didn't - that she would be unhappy"...
In the end, what seems more unusual than the Obamas' who-does-what battles - most working parents have one version or another - is the way they turned them into a teachable moment, converting lived experience into both a political message and what sounds like the opposite of standard political shtick.
And then Obama holds us for a long, long time.