Michelle Obama is the president’s “reality check,” his “moral voice,” and his “best friend.” And while many are buzzing about what policies Barack Obama’s term will include, he’s not the only Obama with another four years to work on issues he cares about. Will Michelle Obama expand her sphere of influence in these next four years?
Washington Post reporter Nia-Malika Henderson, who’s been covering the first lady for years, says Mrs. Obama recently told her she wanted to do more in her next four years in the White House. And a recent article in The New York Times said, “In recent weeks, Mrs. Obama and her advisers have been discussing whether to expand her work beyond childhood obesity and military families and how to capitalize on her popularity.”
The first sign that she plans to take on more came late last week. In a kick-off video for the new nonprofit, Organizing for Action, Michelle spoke about “the next phase of our movement for change.” She championed her husband’s message for economic fairness and opportunity on the campaign trail this past fall. In one of the most memorable lines from her speech at the DNC, she spoke of how “when you’ve worked hard, and done well, and walked through that doorway of opportunity, you do not slam it shut behind you. You reach back and you give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed.”
That popularity has been surging in recent months. She recently clocked some of her highest approval ratings ever, hitting 73% in a December 2012 poll.
But it’s not clear those polling numbers alone will be enough to encourage the first lady outside of her comfort zone. According to New York Times reporting, “she still treats the job of first lady like a dangerous country through which she must navigate safe passage.”
Safe passage has been difficult for Michelle so far, even as she focused on two seemingly uncontroversial planks. In her days so far in the East Wing, she’s worked closely with military families and organized the “Let’s Move” campaign to help fight childhood obesity. The latter has drawn its share of criticism at times from those on the right who accused her of trying to institute a “nanny state” in which kids were told what to eat by the government. One pundit told Republicans to reject the first lady’s suggestions, while others used her discussion of healthy eating as an opportunity to criticize her weight.
Despite the critics, Michelle Obama has always “stayed true to herself” according to Henderson. That has also been the first lady’s message to other young girls and women.