Americans view the Obamas in such packaged snippets yet feel like they are on a first-name basis. Look how tall Malia is! Why didn’t Michelle kiss Barack on the kiss cam? What does Barack tell Sasha about her jump shot?
During the 2012 campaign, the president and first lady talked about their daughters incessantly in interviews and talk-show hosts loved it. Most Americans loved it too, said Stephen Hess, a presidential historian at the Brookings Institution.
“History is going to remember what Barack Obama did or didn’t do as a president. But we who live through it are different. We see the cultural impact,” said Hess, who served on the White House staff during the Eisenhower and Nixon administrations and as an adviser to presidents Ford and Carter. “They have contributed in a very special way to our lives. They got to the White House at a moment when a lot of our lives were difficult, and we are fortunate to have a very optimistic family who knows how to smile, how to have fun.”
Living in front of the camera
The bits of Obama family life carefully distributed by the White House paint a Rockwellian portrait of a first family who could be living next door — and who happen to be black.
They are “very much ordinary and extraordinary,” as the poet Sonia Sanchez put it.
The president is a basketball dad who coaches Sasha’s team and yells during the games. He talks sports and stays up late watching ESPN.
A taped interview broadcast during NCAA championship basketball game coverage in April began with Obama offering commentary on the Big Dance to CBS’s Clark Kellogg, a former NBA player. And it ended with the two ribbing each other about a previous game of Horse.
But in between, the two talked as fathers of athletic girls. “A couple of things,” said Obama, “number one, how pleased I am to see women’s and girls’ sports develop since you and I were kids. Number two is I bleed when those girls play . . . watching them play, I just want them to do so well, you know, and when something goes right, it is more joy than I ever got playing myself,” the president said.
The first lady is an involved mom who keeps her girls in check and assigns them chores.
Notwithstanding the White House housekeeping staff, Michelle Obama has her daughters make their own beds and do their own laundry. Malia, a high school freshman, plays varsity tennis — a sport that her mother required her to stick with.