But as ubiquitous as the first lady has become, she also has carved out a distinct role in President Obama’s reelection campaign and in the country: innocuous cheerleader, steering clear of the tough, hot-button issues and carrying no hint of political liability that occasionally worried the campaign in 2008.
Despite a fierce national debate over policies affecting women, with the Obama campaign driving a conversation on issues such as abortion rights and renewing the Violence Against Women Act, Michelle Obama has been quiet on these divisive subjects.
A Harvard-educated lawyer and one-time executive at the University of Chicago Hospitals, she has largely sidestepped the pending Supreme Court decision on health care, instead focusing on the importance of seeing three women on the court’s bench and the benefits of the law to American families.
Although President Obama said he leaned heavily on his wife’s counsel before making his decision to endorse gay marriage, the first lady has left it to her husband to talk about the details in public.
In an era where it is not a stretch to anticipate a woman as president, how closely Michelle Obama hews to the traditional role of first lady is being watched closely for clues about how much and how little things have changed for high-profile political spouses.
History’s most popular first ladies have kept their own opinions out of public sight, but how much should Michelle Obama be compelled to follow that tradition?
On Saturday, while President Obama hosted G-8 leaders at Camp David, Michelle Obama joined their spouses at the White House for a tour and lunch prepared with produce from the White House kitchen garden she helped plant.
According to a campaign aide, the first lady’s playbook for the rest of the election season will be to avoid policy and political debates on the campaign trail. After a rocky start to the 2008 campaign, when she was cast by Obama critics as overly opinionated and strident, Obama campaign aides helped remake her into a beloved, noncontroversial first lady with almost no political liabilities. She has not been at the center of a controversy since August 2010, when she was widely criticized for taking a vacation to Spain with her daughter Sasha.
She is overwhelmingly popular — seven out of 10 Americans have favorable views of her — and the campaign is determined to maintain that popularity by keeping her away from the ugly polarization of modern politics.