Was Johnny Depp at the Obamas' Halloween party? If so, why did they conceal it? And what role does the popular first lady actually play in the White House? A tell-all book about the president’s family finds answers to such questions and is providing for much excitement in the United States.

One can safely forget the race for the Republican presidential candidacy. Only one thing is of interest in Washington these days: Was Johnny Depp at Obama’s first Halloween party in the White House in October 2009? If so, why did they conceal it when otherwise prominent guests are always constantly being presented to the public? What did the first lady have to do with that, and what role does Michelle Obama actually play in the White House?

Triggering of all of that is a book with the simple title “The Obamas,” which New York Times reporter Jodi Kantor wrote and which is coming on the market this week.

The excitement in the capital city is big — on the one hand, because it contains a few new gossip stories, which are naturally the most interesting; on the other hand, because Kantor not only describes how hesitantly and almost reluctantly Michelle Obama embarked on her role as first lady of the nation, but also presents in great detail the influence of the popular First Lady on the political priorities of her husband.

According to Kantor, Michelle Obama initially considered not moving into the White House right away when her husband took office in January 2009, but rather to follow with their two daughters in the summer, when they had ended the school year in Chicago. Obama’s advisers were standing on their heads. Finally she agreed, but only, Kantor writes, so that the family would stay together.

In the White House, Michelle was shocked to learn that she couldn’t do anything unobserved — not take out the dog Bo, not accompany her daughter to soccer without a retinue of bodyguards. She eliminated the traditional first lady’s dinner for the wives of congressional representatives and declared that she would only be available for official duties two days a week. Jokes soon went around in the White House about how difficult it was to get an appointment with her.

Michelle was especially irritated, according to Kantor, that Obama’s advisers wanted not only to control his public image but hers also. As the first African-American first lady, she had prescribed for herself a performance beyond reproach anyway, with perfect appearances at musical evenings and state dinners. She had the feeling that “everyone was waiting for a black woman to make a mistake” — Kantor quotes an interviewee in close proximity to the Obamas — and wanted to prove that taste and glamor prevailed in the White House again after the boring Bush years.

Harsh criticism of Obama’s Advisers

The advisers to her husband were driven by the concern that too costly presentations would not be well received in public. So the appearance of Hollywood star Depp in the role of the Mad Hatter (from Alice in Wonderland) was apparently intentionally kept secret, because the expenditure for 200 hand-selected party guests appeared offensive to the advisers at a time when the nation was reeling from the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression. The party was organized by Desirée Rogers, a confidante of the presidential spouse. She was later booted out.

Above all, however, Michelle Obama’s influence in the White House has led to considerable friction within the leadership circle around her husband — indeed, even to an outburst of rage by the then-White House press secretary. Already after a few months, reports Kantor, she began to criticize Obama’s advisers — not openly, but instead at home in the private living quarters of the president on the second floor of the White House.

What made her especially angry was that Obama’s advisers pushed him repeatedly to make political compromises. On the other hand, Michelle might well have been the driving force behind Obama’s decision to push for reform plans like the health care reform and (the later abandoned) immigration reform — as unpopular as they were in the eyes of the U.S. public.

David Axelrod, Obama’s chief strategist, who has known the Obamas for years, apparently took it philosophically: “When she thinks things have been mishandled or when things are off the track, she’ll raise it, because she’s hugely invested in him.” Obama’s first chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, and his first press secretary, Robert Gibbs, reacted with thinner skin. Emanuel stayed out of her way; he doubted her political instincts and let everyone know it. Gibbs, on the other hand, exploded after she allegedly criticized his crisis management, insulting the absent first lady with unprintable curse words in front of witnesses.

Both Emanuel and Gibbs are no longer in the White House.