Is Michelle Obama an Asset or Liability?

Michelle Obama at NAACP Awards

Sen. Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, arrive at the NAACP Image Awards in Los Angeles in March 2005. "Let me tell you something: For the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country, and not just because Barack has done well, but because I think people are hungry for change," she once said. Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Do you see Michelle Obama as an asset or a liability to her husband's campaign? Do you think that America is a ready for an African-American first lady? Click here, pull down "Day to Day" and send us your thoughts. hide caption

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Listeners Respond

"I would have a tough time deciding which Obama to vote for if they were both on the ticket."

-Art Olsen

Read more comments.

Quotes About Michelle Obama

"Given the way the Clintons unfairly turn the tables, we're only moments away from Hillary asking Obama: "Can't you control your spouse?

-Maureen Dowd, New York Times

"I see a woman, a possible future First Lady, establishing a new precedent for the role the First Lady plays before the public."

-The HNIC Report, responding to Maureen Dowd

"She is unquestionably accomplished, but she is not a repressed intellectual, in the mode of Teresa Heinz Kerry. More than anything, she seems to enjoy talking about her husband and her daughters."

-Lauren Collins, The New Yorker

"Regally tall, stunning, and city-chic in a triple strand of pearls atop her country-casual pants-and-sweater outfit, she manages to look as down to earth as any other soccer mom and as glamorous as a model while instantly commanding respect, even before she starts to speak."

-Leslie Bennetts, Vanity Fair

"Suddenly, in walked Michelle Obama who has one God-given advantage in any room, that at well over six foot she is the tallest person there."

-Vicky Ward, Evening Standard

"She's traded in her solid gold résumé, high-octane talent and role as vice president of community and external affairs at the University of Chicago Hospitals to be a professional wife and hostess ... Just as we watch curvy, healthy-looking singers and actresses like Lindsay Lohan become anorexic too-blonde hoochies before our very eyes, so we're now in danger of having to watch the political version of that process."

-Debra Dickerson, Salon.com

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama's wife, Michelle Obama, has been lauded as "Barack's Rock," but she's also been deemed a potential liability to his campaign. She speaks her mind, even when her opinions may be controversial.

Karen Grigsby Bates joins a group of black women in the Leimert Park neighborhood of Los Angeles to see how the notion of a black first lady would play with them.

Refreshingly Honest or
Too Direct?

Marcy DeVeaux, an assistant professor at California State University, Northridge, admits she was put off at the beginning of the campaign when Obama discussed her husband's morning breath and snoring.

"We know too much. Those are things that need to be kept at home!" she says.

But Nanci Isaacs, who is married and has two young daughters, says Obama is just being real about the unglamorous parts of married life.

"I think it's kind of cute in a way, and keeps things on the level."

They all agree that Michelle Obama is a far different potential presidential spouse than what America is used to.

"Michelle is very powerful, a highly educated working mother. I think that like a lot of us working across the nation, she doesn't really have a lot of patience, or maybe a lot of time, for the flowery conversation that it seems like a lot of people need," says Kim Morris, mother of a 4-year-old.

Her Looks: Regal or Intimidating?

In general, the women say they appreciate Obama's personality, even if her blunt manner, unusual height and — something that isn't often discussed outside the black community — hue can be daunting.

"Acting the same way she acts now, speaking the same way she speaks now, I think it would be easier to take for some people if she looked a different way," says writer and graduate student Sharon Johnson.

In a society that still tends to value light skin over dark and straight hair over kinky, Obama, with her deep brown skin and obviously straightened hair, attracts attention and maybe a little apprehension.

"I think it's a really powerful combination when you are obviously and decidedly African-American and intelligent and speaking on behalf of everyone — not just the ones who benefited from things you benefited from, but the ones who haven't. It's a scary conversation," Johnson says.

"I definitely think she'd be perceived differently if she were a lighter tone, but I also think she'd be perceived differently if she were smaller — a petite woman," says Isaacs.

What Does Barack Obama's Wife Reveal About Him?

Morris says she loves that Obama didn't choose the kind of pale trophy wife many prominent black men do.

"You don't get the sense that he was threatened in any way, him personally or his ability to be elected ... and I think that speaks volumes about him and his passion and love for her as she is," she says.

How to Get By in Washington

If the Obama campaign prevails and the Obamas become the first black first family, DeVeaux says that Michelle Obama should prepare to do one important thing:

"She should take her support network — her mother, her aunties, all those women who made her who she is — take all of those women to Washington with her."

But first Obama would have to get to the White House, and November is a long way away.

Listeners Respond

It is fabulous to see a potential first lady that totally breaks the traditional mold of traditional first ladies that only supported antiquated images of women. Her leadership speaks positively to his, and I would be pleased to have such a world leader at hand!

-Diepiriye Kuku-Siemons

Michelle Obama is smart, stylish, and beautiful. A Jackie Kennedy kind of girl. End of story. (By the way, for those of you focusing on racial divides, I'm white.) Rather than focusing on her physical attributes, I'm curious what issue she would take on as first lady. Now there's an interesting story!

-Mary Schafer

Michelle Obama is the first black woman to have a husband running for president! Why shouldn't she be dissected? Go for it NPR. If this country had been exposed to a black man running for president, it might have a different tone. NPR is doing their job!

-Barbara Downey

This conversation only shows how far American has to still go to embrace the diversity we so often praise. Michelle Obama is beautiful and highly intelligent. This is a combination that many will find intimidating. I find her to be a wonderful example of an American woman. When she is in the White House, I believe that Americans will find her intriguing. Women married to powerful men should be just as interesting as the man the walk side by side with.

-Colette Harris

She is an excellent example for American women. Educated, supportive of her husband and family-centered. Not a caricature — an attractive, intelligent, refreshingly honest woman, who I believe is a down-to- earth role model that all of our women can identify and connect with.

-Robert Leslie Jr.

Michelle Obama is so real she's strong, she's intelligent, she's funny she's passionate. She makes mistakes as all people do. She's tall, dark and strikingly beautiful. She and Barack are so suited for each other. She's black, all right, and I, as a single white mother of four children can't wait for her to be our First Lady AND I KNOW SHE WILL BE!!!

-Carol Hardison

Michelle Obama is a lady who will bring the beauty and intelligence of a Jackie Kennedy to the White House. She will make us proud of her in America and abroad !!!

-Ken Collins

She is an authentic individual with quirks. I prefer this kind of woman. Perhaps others are put off by her candor, but you know she isn't scripted. Too may expect pristine perfection. I have friends who have worked with Michelle at the University of Chicago and they think she is terrific - sure of herself and willing to initiate action.

-Geraldine Conrad

We live in the Hyde Park-Kenwood community of Chicago where the Obamas live, and know that she is thought highly of here. I think she is a breath of fresh air and would make a wonderful first lady who would set a high standard. Yes, she is direct. As a white woman, I know that some people seem to find it threatening when African-American women are more upfront and direct than many white women are. I find it refreshing and think we need to get used to strong women who speak their minds!

-Janet Howe

As a black man with a law degree married to a statuesque, dark chocolate woman with a PhD, I couldn't be happier to see this couple rise to prominence. They make it clear both as individuals and as a couple that while they have talents and advantage, they are normal people with whom we can all identify. She is proof of his good taste and sound judgment.

-Christopher Randolph

I didn't realize Mrs. Obama was so tall (big deal). She's very attractive. Straightened hair? I see black women both with and without. Same with whites - some perm their hair, frost it... others don't. I've read where light skin color is more valued (its not some secret but a fact for some/many) so I think this article simply talked about things people were noticing. Michelle is NOT a Laura Bush - HALLELUJAH for that!

-Sandra Goodwick

Might just be the finest first lady we have had the opportunity to elect in a long time. I fear for her. In this bigoted and racially biased society, a tall dark woman is facing problems than any white woman with the same qualifications would never have to endure.

-Sue deVall

I am a black woman and I can't tell you how offended I was by this piece on Michelle Obama. I can't believe it that in this day and age, were concentrating on someone's skin color or height. Are we that backwards? Michelle Obama is a beautiful, smart, classy woman. I've seen her in person and when she walks into a room all eyes swivel her way. She's tall and incredibly fit and wears her stylish clothes well. She puts Cindy McCain, and all the other ex-candidates wives to shame. There is absolutely no comparison in terms of looks. I can't wait for la belle Michelle to come to the White House with those beautiful, precious little girls. The message to the whole world will be - look how beautiful black people are. Anyone who thinks otherwise will be ashamed.

-Marian Mcelroy

Do you see Michelle Obama as an asset or a liability to her husband's campaign? What do you think of this story? Send your comments by clicking here, pulling down Day to Day and we will post them.

I love her! She is a superb American and the perfect role model for young women. I only hope that the "powers that be" don't grind her down.

-Kathy Hope

Yes, I think Michelle Obama's honesty is refreshing. I've had enough of the, "Is this country ready for... a black president, a black first lady, a woman president?" rhetoric. Let's get real. Asking that question is evidence of the intense racism and sexism that is still a part of our subconscious/consciousness. This attitude stymies our progress in becoming a truly representative democracy. There are diverse leaders all over this country and the world. YES WE ARE READY.

-Lori-Ann Lima

I actually think that Michelle Obama as First Lady would be comparable to Hillary Clinton as First Lady. Both women were seen as equal partners (successful, educated, opinionated, strong). For most people that's an asset, but for some it is probably a liability. I think that Michelle has the potential to do great things as First Lady and overall I think she would be a tremendous asset to the White House and the country.

-Daniel Jackson

It is RIDICULOUS, and the lowest INSULT for NPR to pose questions about Michelle Obama's physical attributes to black people. This is comparable to black prisoners beating Fannie Lou Hamer for the white sheriff.

Maybe she will become the first woman of color to serve as America's First Lady. Never have you discussed potential Caucasian first ladies height, weight (anorexic or overweight), their hue, hair, demeanor or vices. NPR OVER-REACHED for no good reason and you should refrain from this. When are you going to have a group of white women and men pass judgment on Cindy McCain and Bill Clinton? They deserve equal treatment.

In short, God creasted Michelle Robinson Obama and like all humans she was made, "very good" and is very good AS IS! Anyone with complaints or concerns should take those issues up with GOD for she like all of us did not create herself. God may choose to do something or He may not. As for the rest of us, we shall accept and respect each person as the special individuals we are. She is an asset to her husband and a fine example of womanhood and this is MOST important. Finally, America is forced to see another type of African-American woman who does not dress lewd, speak Ebonics, is a wife and mother, works and does not shake her rear. WE EXIST TOO BUT MEDIAS IGNORE US AND CELEBRATE THE LESSER! Thank God for Michelle and Barack for they are forcing America to deal with its own hatred for all of Gods creations.

-E.J. Neila

YOU GO GIRL!!!! I am 51 years old and NEVER thought a black candidate would procede so far during my lifetime! Michelle is the ideal "woman behind the man" I don't have words enough to sing her accolades!

-Sharon Bloung

This was an incredible story! My take-away is that a sizable portion of the country thinks Ms. Obama is either too black, too tall, too smart or too asertive to be First Lady. It is unbelievable that we have to have conversations like this when the country is fragmented, the Iraq War seems to have no end and we are causing the climate to change in dramatic ways. But thank you for educating us that people in this day and age still have predjudices like this. I would have a tough time deciding which Obama to vote for if they were both on the ticket.

-Art Olsen

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