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Der Bund, Switzerland

The Obamas: Who’s the Boss in This House?


By Nina Merli

Translated By Khaibar Karmand

10 January 2012

Edited by Gillian Palmer


Switzerland - Der Bund - Original Article (German)

Today, U.S. journalist Jodi Kantor’s revelation-filled book titled “The Obamas” was published. It is meant to demonstrate how big of an influence Michelle Obama is exerting on her husband and why she is unlike any other first lady.

“She is Bill Clinton and he is Hillary.” This sentence summarizes what New York Times correspondent Jodi Kantor has compiled in 400 pages in her freshly published book, which appeared under the title “The Obamas.”

During her investigations, the author has talked to 33 current and former White House staffers. The picture she draws of the power couple does not flatter the U.S. president much. It suggests that Michelle Obama’s enormous influence on her 50-year-old husband is not limited to merely private matters.

If she hadn’t green-lighted her husband’s presidential bid back in 2007, Barack Obama would not have run in the first place. In an interview with the Chicago Magazine Jodi Kantor said that a “good source” had described the relationship between Barack and Michelle Obama simply as: “She is Bill Clinton and he is Hillary.”

Quarrel with Obama, quarrel with his advisors

For six years the journalist has been following the appearances of the U.S. president and his wife; she has had the opportunity to interview both of them separately, although it was not in the context of investigations for her current book. She even gained an insight into the Obamas’ Chicago apartment where they lived before moving to the White House. A “fairly small” apartment, the author emphasizes during the interview, with a “very small closet,” which makes it “hard to figure out how Michelle Obama’s clothes, even her more modest wardrobe back then, fit in there.”

But those are unimportant details, entertaining at most. What is interesting are, above all, Kantor’s illustrations about Michelle Obama’s persisting conflicts with her husband’s closest advisors. Former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, for instance, had been a thorn in her side from the day they moved in. She became increasingly frustrated by Emanuel, who in her view was not advancing the implementation of Obama’s policy (especially his health care reform) vigorously enough. A few days ago, the New York Times quoted from Kantor’s book that remaining true to oneself was more important to Michelle Obama than winning an election at any price. She made no secret of her dislike and opposed Emanuel ever more often. The constant tensions motivated Emanuel to look for a new job. He left the White House to become mayor of Chicago.

However, the book covers not only Michelle’s extremely active involvement in the policy of her husband, but also boisterous marital spats taking place in the corridors of the White House and arguments with former spokesman Robert Gibbs, whom Michelle is said to have made livid with rage on a regular basis. Also mentioned are lavish parties, like a Halloween party staged by Tim Burton, attended by high-caliber guests like Johnny Depp and George Lucas.

Just published, already a scandal

The White House, issuing its official comments on the content of these revelations last week, was not amused by Kantor’s book. “The book, an overdramatization of old news, is about a relationship between two people whom the author has not spoken to in years,” White House Communications Director Eric Schultz wrote in a press release. “The emotions, thoughts and private moments described in the book, though often seemingly ascribed to the president and First Lady, reflect little more than the author’s own thoughts,” the statement further reads. And the secrecy of the controversial party springs, according to the White House, from the imagination of the author. Otherwise the press would hardly have been allowed to attend the party and the White House wouldn’t have posted videos of the celebration on its website, Schultz noted.

Jodi Kantor defends herself against the denials from the White House; in an interview on NBC’s "Today Show," she sticks to the revealed facts in her book. Moreover, she criticizes the whole discussion as overlooking the fundamental point of her book — namely, the transformation of Michelle Obama into a first lady and how dedicated and hard-working she is in her role.



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