With only days before the election, wowOwow’s Lesley Stahl caught up with Michelle Obama …
Lesley: If you win, you’ll be inheriting an economy in as dire a condition as most of us have ever seen. Do you see a role for the First Lady in dealing with the psychology of tough times? What can a First Lady do?
Michelle: Leading us out of this economic crisis is the job of the next president. But the First Lady can help in crucial ways. She can be a bridge to communities across the country – talking with folks about their concerns, their struggles and their hopes for the future. Over the last year and a half, I’ve been hosting roundtable discussions with working women and military spouses, and I’ve heard countless stories from women and families who are having a really tough time in this economic downturn. They’re doing everything they can to make a good life for their families, but still, they’re slipping.
I’ve really treasured these discussions. It’s been incredibly valuable to hear these women’s voices and their stories. As First Lady, I would keep these conversations going, and bring their stories back to my husband and his staff, because our president really needs to understand the challenges that working women and military families face, so he can enact policies that will truly bring change people really need to their everyday lives. In an Obama White House, those conversations will happen. We’ll keep talking and we’ll keep listening. I want to help women and families have more of a voice in our government. They deserve it.
Lesley: As we come down to the last three weeks of the campaign, the polls are showing almost a “tipping point” slide toward your husband — with states usually thought of “rosy red” turning “berry blue.” Do you trust the polls? Or do you think there’s some hidden racism?
Michelle: I think there are two conversations that have been going on throughout this whole election. There is the conversation that has been happening with the pundits about the polls and the campaign combat. And then there is the conversation that has been happening on the ground. The folks out there aren’t really interested in the horse race and the negative back and forth. They want to know about the positions that the candidates have on the issues. They want to hear how our next president is going to help this struggling economy.
And of course, there will always be people who won’t vote for Barack Obama no matter what. But there are also people who will not vote for John McCain no matter what. That’s always the case in politics. But we don’t focus on that. We focus on getting out the facts about Barack’s ideas and his positions on the issues, and the values that guide him.
Lesley: Raising children as part of the First Family is a unique challenge. I actually covered Amy Carter’s first day at public school. Chelsea Clinton went to a private school, and seems to have had as normal an upbringing as is possible. What do you think about raising your girls in the White House? What are the pros and cons? And what kind of school are you thinking about?
Michelle: Barack and I have been really proud of how the girls have handled themselves throughout the campaign. They have taken this campaign in stride, in their own individual ways. They’ve learned a lot, and they’ve managed to have some fun, too, which is wonderful. And if Barack has the honor of serving as our next president, we will work hard to make sure our girls have smooth adjustment to life in Washington. That will be my No. 1 job. I’ve already had some great conversations with Hillary Clinton, Tipper Gore and Caroline Kennedy, and they’ve all given me great advice on how to make sure that your kids stay grounded and whole — even in the White House. But you know, that comes later. For now, we are staying focused on getting out our message and getting out the vote for the Obama/Biden ticket. We are taking this experience one day at a time.
Lesley: What is the biggest misconception you hear/read about yourself and would you like to address/correct it?
Michelle: With all of the attention that’s been placed on our family, I think it’s easy for people to forget that I come from a very ordinary background. I grew up on the south side of Chicago, in a working-class family, living in a one-bedroom apartment. I didn’t grow up with a lot of advantages, but I did have a warm and loving family, and access to public schools that put me on the pathway to success. So my life really has been the American Dream. And that’s why I believe so strongly in my husband’s candidacy. As president, Barack will make sure that every single American is given that same chance to succeed, and to live that dream.
Lesley: This has been a long, grueling, incredible campaign. What have you learned about the country? About your husband? And about yourself?
Michelle: This has definitely been a long and intense campaign. But our family, even our girls, get energy from the thousands of incredible people we’ve met across the country. This experience has really reaffirmed for me that people are so decent – with so many of the same concerns and shared experiences – and so many hopes for our families and our country. We’re all so much more alike than we are different.
Whenever I’m feeling a little sluggish on the campaign trail, I get such energy from the people I meet. Their hugs and words of encouragement always keep me going. And really, who can rest when you meet folks who are tearing up because they never thought they’d live to see this moment? Or the young folks who are so passionate about the political process and focused on working together for change? They keep me going. And they’ve taught me so many lessons about our country and our world. ‘ve seen again and again that, despite our many differences, and no matter how much we may disagree about the issues, all of us — Democrats, Republicans, Independents — we all love our country. We all care about our families. And we all want to make this world a better place.