Michelle Obama counters her critics by hosting TV chat show
Michelle Obama went on daytime television yesterday to reveal that she likes Laura Bush, does not like wearing tights ("they hurt") and – oh, yes – is very, very proud of her country and always has been.
All this during an hour-long stint guest co-hosting the popular morning talk-show The View – along with Whoopi Goldberg and Barbara Walters – which is being greeted as part of a calculated effort at reintroducing a candidate's wife who has suffered some blows to her public image.
"I take them in my stride, it's part of this process and we are not new to politics," said a relaxed and beaming Mrs Obama. She acknowledged that she is the kind of person who "wears her heart on her sleeve" and "puts her passion out there" and it can lead to trouble. "It's a risk that you take."
Most costly was a comment made at the height of the nomination battle with Hillary Clinton. Noting the huge turnouts of voters, she said that for "the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country". Critics said it betrayed a lack of patriotism. Last week Time magazine posed this question on its front cover: "Will Michelle Obama hurt Barack's chances in November?"
In recent days, the internet has been awhirl with claims that she once used the word "whiteys" – an apparent racial slur – from the pulpit of the family's former church in Chicago.
That claim was part of what prompted the campaign to launch a website last week exclusively dedicated to combating what it believes are deliberately malicious mistruths about Mr Obama and his family. Top of the list on the site, fightthesmears.com, is a post flatly denying the "whitey" rumours.
A new Washington Post/ABC poll this week suggests that measured against Cindy McCain, the wife of the Republican presumptive nominee, Mrs Obama is still doing just fine. It said that 48 per cent of Americans viewed her favourably over 39 per cent for Mrs McCain.
The Obama campaign denies that an "image makeover" is under way. Katie McCormick Lelyveld, her spokeswoman, said her staff is simply "putting a strategy together to help people get to know her."
What the campaign is not doing is attempting to pull Mrs Obama back from the spotlight. She clearly scored points among many voters when she gave her husband a so-called "fist-bump" on stage at the rally in Minneapolis on 3 June, the night he claimed formally to have clinched the nomination.
If that was a glimpse of an aspiring first couple who will be cooler than any seen before, Mrs Obama was self-deprecating about it yesterday. "Let me tell you I am not that hip," she said.
Asked about the comment on pride for her country, Mrs Obama recalled her story of rising from a working-class family on the South Side of Chicago to study at Princeton and be serving today as a senior health care executive (from which she has now taken leave). "Of course I am proud of this country. Nowhere but in America could this story be possible." Among those who defended Mrs Obama in the wake of the controversy was Mrs Bush. "I was touched by it, actually I sent her a note," Mrs Obama said. "That's what I like about Laura Bush – the just, calm, rational approach to these issues... there is a reason why people like her."