Michelle Obama Not Just Fashion Star But "Potent" Political Weapon Who Strikes "Common Chord"

First Lady Michelle Obama is not only a fashion leader but a potent political weapon. Mark Landler profiled the First Lady in Dallas for Saturday’s lead National section story, “Helpings Of Energy And Cheer For the Trail.”

At a time when President Obama and his opponents are blamed for shrinking from painful remedies for a sluggish nation, Michelle Obama is back on the road as a tireless, cheerful dispenser of them.

“You’ve got a lot of energy because you’re all eating your vegetables and exercising,” the first lady proclaimed to a crowd of 14,000 screaming children in Des Moines on Thursday.

“Thank you for eating your vegetables,” she told airmen at a mess hall in Little Rock, Ark., as several stared guiltily into half-eaten plates of broccoli. “We need you strong.”

And sitting down with parents for dinner at an Olive Garden restaurant in Fort Worth, she exclaimed, “I hope you’re hungry; I’m starving,” and then passed around a salad bowl.

Serving up leafy greens is easier, of course, than slicing $1 trillion out of the federal budget. But Mrs. Obama has managed to make her “eat your peas” message painless and even occasionally joyful, hamming it up through a three-day, four-state tour to mark the second anniversary of her childhood anti-obesity campaign, “Let’s Move!” The trip is a timely reminder of why the Obama campaign views her as such a potent weapon.

As if hectoring members of the military to clean their plates wasn’t enough, “she crushed the late-night television host Jimmy Fallon in dodge ball and a potato-sack race during a fitness contest filmed in the East Room of the White House.”

With poll ratings that consistently surpass those of her husband, Mrs. Obama can be deployed before virtually any audience, according to the president’s campaign advisers. Some conservatives criticize the first lady for trying to make Americans eat “cardboard and tofu,” in the words of Rush Limbaugh. But her message has resonated with many other people, including those she met this week.

“We may look back and say, ‘She saved more lives than anybody else in the administration,’ ” Mr. Axelrod said. “It’s obviously something she feels passionately about, and not just because she is beating the bejesus out of everybody in push-ups.”

Not just push-ups: she crushed the late-night television host Jimmy Fallon in dodge ball and a potato-sack race during a fitness contest filmed in the East Room of the White House. She also talked Jay Leno, an avowed vegetable-phobe, into eating an apple dipped in honey.

Landler carefully calibrated his story to show Michelle Obama both as a committed political figure, down-to-earth role model, and a mother who always makes time for her kids:

On this trip, the first lady has most come to life when discussing the work-life stresses faced by ordinary families. At the Olive Garden, she carried on an earnest conversation with eight parents about how to improve the eating habits and fitness of their families.

The first lady drew on her own family, telling stories about her daughters, Malia and Sasha, that hinted at their rarefied existence but stuck a common chord with her guests.


The president’s campaign advisers said that they were well aware that Mrs. Obama drew strict limits on how much she would do for the campaign because of family obligations. Her message, she said, is “This is the time I have to give to the campaign, and whatever you do with that time is up to you, but when it’s over, don’t even look at me.”

“I’m absolutely fired up,” she insisted, “but I always have to have balance, because I’m a mother. When I’m out there, I’m fired up, but when I’m not, I have to be Malia and Sasha’s mom, and that can’t be as a fired-up campaigner. They’re like, ‘Where were you?’”