And Michelle Obama’s political influence on her husband and his administration may not be fully known for some time. That’s not surprising. It wasn’t until years after she’d left the White House that we learned of petite, wildflower-loving Lady Bird Johnson’s sway over her husband’s professional endeavors.
“During the statement you were a little breathless and it was too much looking down and I think it was a little too fast, not enough change of pace,” she told her husband after a 1964 news conference for which she gave her husband a B-plus.
“Yes, ma’am,” President Johnson replied.
Apart from the politicking and the socializing, first ladies throughout history have been “protectors of their families,” Smith said.
In that, Michelle Obama’s impact is already clear. She has taken care to cultivate her family’s image in magazine interviews, sit-downs on TV talk shows and family portraits taken by Annie Leibovitz. Obama’s historical role model may very well be Edith Roosevelt, wife of Teddy and a mother of five who knew the press would be interested in her children’s antics.
“She injected decorum into that by showing pictures of her reading to the children, having them look like they are doing homework,” Mayo said. Roosevelt also chose the magazines in which she wanted stories about her family to appear, and she chose who she wanted to write them.
Obama has said the other Roosevelt — Eleanor — and Jacqueline Kennedy are two of the first ladies she relates to most. The two are among the most beloved and criticized to occupy that role.
Eleanor Roosevelt was the first first lady to hold a news conference. It was held in 1933, and only female reporters were invited. Kennedy spent three years in the White House, but in that short time the Queen of Camelot’s cool reserve struck some as arrogance. Years later, those rough edges have softened.
Only time will tell how the current first lady will be judged. But in an interview for the kickoff of the C-SPAN series, Obama gave an indication of how she would like to be remembered. Commenting on the work of her predecessors, she said she has followed in their path as she chose her own causes: “For me, that’s meant helping our kids lead healthier lives . . . working to get our military families the benefits and support they’ve earned . . . opening the White House to as many people as possible . . . and encouraging all our young people to achieve every last one of their dreams.”