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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

For Michelle Obama, Convention Speech Is a New Point in Transformation


CHARLOTTE, N.C. - In her speech here on Tuesday night, the first lady, Michelle Obama, will have a chance to define her husband on her own terms. But the speech will also mark a new point in her remarkable transformation from a Chicago hospital executive who openly called politics a waste of time to a hugely popular first lady and polished political communicator considered essential to her husband's re-election efforts.

Her last convention speech, from Denver in 2008, is worth watching in advance of the address she will deliver here tonight. But to really see how much Michelle Obama has changed, go all the way back to her husband's 2004 United States Senate race, her first time on the public stage.

L ook at the flier below, which is one of the first-ever pieces of Michelle Obama campaign material, and a striking contrast with the slickly produced images we see from the Obama campaign now. The future first lady does not yet resemble a first lady: she looks like the busy hospital executive she was back then, wearing little or no makeup (but the same huge grin). The sign is homemade, just a Microsoft Word document with a photo plunked in. And the event is an education round table - a chance for her to discuss policy with voters, which she does very little now.

During that race, Mrs. Obama was deliciously, sometimes hilariously, frank, saying all sorts of things that an aspiring senator's wife is not supposed to.

“I cannot be crazy, because then I'm a crazy mother and I'm an angry wife,” she told The Chicago Tribune about balancing her husband's Senate run with the rest of their lives. “What I notice about men, all men, is that their order is me, my family, God is in there somewhere, but me is first. And for women, me is fourth, and that's not healthy.”

“I've had to come to the point of figuring out how to carve out what kind of life I want for myself beyond who Barack is and what he wants,” she continued, on a more poignant note.

After the election, she trailed her newly sworn-in husband through the Capitol, mischievously saying to Jeff Zeleny, “Maybe one day he will do something to warrant all this attention.”

As late as 2007, with her husband running for president, she was still speaking very bluntly about the challenges of being a political spouse - or any spouse. At one early event, she even cited a sewage mishap: “A toilet overflows … I was scrambling around to reschedule a nine o'clock meeting, to be there,” she said. “Barack, love him to death, put on his clothes and he left! And to top it off, we have the added social pressure of looking good, staying slim, don't add pounds, you got ta look good … and we have to be in good spirits!… I'm just tired just thinking about it.”

Will the first lady sound remotely like that tonight? Don't bet on it. But fans of the unscripted Michelle Obama, maintain hope: according to aides, the first lady is already gathering material for the memoir she will write one day.