The Obama Presidency
First Lady Michelle Obama delivers a speech to parents and other supporters in Alpharetta, GA on the first anniversary of her 'Let's Move!' campaign (Lawrence Jackson/Official White House Photo)
Given the general warmth of public opinion—both in America and abroad—towards Michelle Obama as she left the White House in 2017, it is worth remembering that her entrance on the political stage ten years earlier was not met with universal approval. Right-wing talk radio and emerging social media networks depicted her as "angry," hostile to whites, and unpatriotic. The fact that she was of black, working-class origins, but also educated at Princeton and Harvard Law School, particularly infuriated her most bitter opponents, some of whom depicted her in crudely racist and misogynistic terms. Her two terms as FLOTUS, however, inspired a more enduring counter-narrative of a complex and authentic figure, who refashioned the role of First Lady while executing the traditional duties expected of her quasi-constitutional office. She campaigned energetically to promote active lifestyles and healthy food choices for children, while also using her bully pulpit to persuade the food and drinks industry to be more transparent in food labeling. She also worked with Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden to tackle problems of unemployment, homelessness, and health and wellness among military families returning to civilian life.
All the while Michelle Obama earned broad respect, along with her husband, for raising two bright and insightful daughters away from the glare of publicity, and for a personal sense of style and fashion that was sometimes bold, and always reflected her comfort within her own skin. Those achievements contributed to a peak in her approval rating at 72 percent as she left the White House. As with her husband, there was a sharp racial divide, with 80–90 percent of African American, Hispanics, millennials, and Democrats, but only 44 percent of Republicans and 64 percent of whites, supportive, according to a December 2016 Pew survey. Though she strongly disavowed a political future, her powerful address to the 2016 Democratic National Convention firmly cemented her as the most beloved member of her party as it faced the uncertainty of the Donald Trump era.