On the Shoulders of Giants: Michelle Obama

Avatar of Ellora Mookherjee-Amodt

The almost two years leading up to the presidential election of 2008 were a shocking turn in American history. Neither the media nor the other candidates had paid much attention to the young, half-Black senator from Illinois whose middle name was Hussein and last name rhymed with Osama. Yet the senator remained undaunted. He was confident in his campaign and the people around him. His wife, Michelle Obama, whom he had first met as his mentor at Harvard University, was one of those people, and played a significant role in the Obama campaign.

The decision to run for President was a hard one, and the Obamas had to make it together. After serving merely one senate term, Barack felt confident that the American people were hungry for a new kind of politics. Michelle, on the other hand, felt skeptical of her husband’s decision to go into politics from the beginning. She felt that such a lack of privacy would put a strain on their marriage and family. She stated in a 1996 interview with the New York Times, “There is a strong possibility that Barack will pursue a political career, although it’s unclear. There is a little tension with that. I’m very wary of politics. I think he’s too much of a good guy for the kind of brutality, the skepticism.” Nonetheless, she knew that Barack was the president that America needed. She understood that his presidency could mean something entirely different for the United States. She gave him her blessing, and on February 10, 2007, Barack announced his presidential run.

In the beginning, Michelle was noted by the media as somewhat absent from the campaign compared to the other candidates’ partners. During the race, she was often compared to Bill Clinton, who served as his wife’s biographer and a roaming ambassador to the Clinton Administration, as well as Elizabeth Edwards, who served as her husband’s second campaign manager. Michelle recounts this time as a period spent with her two daughters, making sure that they had some sense of childhood and normality away from the spotlight. Barack, however, credits her for working behind the scenes. She did, in fact, spend every day going over the campaign’s progress with him, discussing strategies, giving him advice, and keeping him grounded.

As the race went on, she became more vocal and publicly present in the campaign. She began attending rallies and other such events more consistently, delivering poignant and powerful speeches. Though she was again met with criticism, being labeled as an “angry Black woman,” she stated in an interview with SUNY Press, “I just take it in stride, and at the end of the day, I know that it comes with the territory.” Michelle often spoke without notes, on topics such as education, race, and poverty. 

One by one, candidates began to drop out of the race. The media began to focus in on the senator who somehow became the Democratic Presidential Nominee. The polls grew closer and closer until finally, on November 4, 2008, it was announced that Barack Obama had won the presidency. Throughout the next eight years, Michelle served alongside him as First Lady, continuing her work speaking and advocating for education, women’s rights, and racial equality. In addition, she began her nationwide initiative to end childhood obesity, which she named, Let’s Move! She was dedicated to leaving a legacy and making a change. Since the end of the Obama administration, Michelle has continued to be an inspiration and role model to women of color everywhere.