Michelle Obama's Military Mission

First ladies are always the subject of fascination. Their experiences often illustrate the evolving roles of women in our society, and they are usually an essential part of the governing team at the White House. Most first ladies have taken on special projects that reflect their core values, such as highway beautification for Lady Bird Johnson and the promotion of reading for Laura Bush. Michelle Obama is emulating her predecessors, with a difference. Her signature initiative--improving the lives of military families--has become a personal mission and an emotional cause.

A year ago, Mrs. Obama, a Harvard-trained lawyer, was one of the most controversial figures in public life, and not in a good way. Her remarks about how her husband's political success had finally made her proud of her country offended many Americans who thought she wasn't patriotic enough. Campaign aides tried to contain the damage, arguing that she meant to say she was finally proud of the political system and was always proud of America, but many voters were put off.

Today's Michelle Obama has become what a senior Democratic strategist calls "a superstar." Sixty-three percent of Americans have a positive view of her, with 43 percent "very positive" and only 8 percent negative. These favorability ratings have been increasing steadily as Americans have gotten to know her. In March 2008, her positive rating was only 32 percent, according to an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll. "She's really opened up to the public," says Democratic pollster Geoff Garin, "and the American people have embraced her. On a very human level, they relate to her as a great mom and as someone who is strong and smart and very caring."

Her outreach to the military is an important part of her appeal, partly because it was unexpected and has important political implications. "It's so counterintuitive of the notion that Democrats are antimilitary," says historian Richard Norton Smith. "What better way to display pride in your country than by honoring those who wear the uniform and who have suffered in the service of their country?" Smith adds that, while he doesn't doubt Mrs. Obama's sincerity, "you can be sincere and shrewd at the same time." [Read '10 Things You Didn't Know about Michelle Obama.']

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Vernon Clayson - 4/1/2009

US News and World Report can gush all they want about Michelle Obama's sudden interest in military families but the Obama's are all about appearance. This issue was adopted for that purpose, it is all about improving her image from the angry black woman with no pride in America to one of compassion with an interest in America's finest young people, those who serve in the military. She probably doesn't loathe the military, ala Bill Clinton, but this sudden interest on her part is little more than ignoble pandering. As far as the notion of Democrats being antimilitary, that's in the balance as they haven't figured out, yet, how best to use the the military as an issue, Michelle Obama's sudden interest is but a small step in that direction.

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