Poor Michelle Obama. According to the Washington Post, she feels "unfulfilled," and is looking for a larger role in her husband's administration.
For weeks, Michelle Obama had been telling her staff and closest confidantes that she wasn't having the impact she wanted. She is a woman of substance, with a background in law, public policy and management, who found herself relegated to role model in chief. The West Wing of the White House -- the fulcrum of power and policy -- had not fully integrated her into its agenda. She wanted more.
Although [Barack] Obama's job-approval ratings have soared (editors note: huh?), the first lady -- a Harvard-educated lawyer -- wasn't satisfied with coasting. She is hiring a full-time speechwriter and has instructed her staff to think "strategically" so that every event has a purpose and a message. She doesn't want to simply go to events and hug struggling military families, she said; she wants to show progress. "Her desire is to step out more and have deliverables," said communications chief Camille Johnston. "It's about things that are coming up that we want to be a part of: child nutrition reauthorization act, prevention and wellness for health-care reform."
In the past couple of weeks, Obama has been more vocal about the specifics of the president's health plan, and she will play a substantive role in promoting it. She will soon announce the creation of an advisory board to help military families. And she will be the face of the administration's United We Serve, a summer-long national service program, which she launched on Monday. Even her social events have a message: She let congressional families know that before the annual White House barbecue today, the 500 guests are expected to show up at Fort McNair to stuff camp backpacks with goodies for the children of military personnel.
There's a certain irony in Ms. Johnston's comments--and Mrs. Obama's push for a wider role in policy-making. Not so many months ago, we were told that the First Lady had found her signature issue, serving as an advocate for the nation's military families. But apparently, that effort has lost its luster, despite the upcoming event at Fort McNair.
In fact, Michelle Obama's last "military event" was more than three months ago, during a highly-publicized visit to Fort Bragg. Fawning coverage from McClatchy (and other press services) suggested that Mrs. Obama was fulfilling her pledge--made during her husband's presidential run--to focus on the plight of military families.
Obama showed her appreciation for both soldiers and their families on Thursday during a visit to Fort Bragg and Fayetteville. The base is one of the largest in the world, and the city that abuts it recently was named the most military-friendly in the nation.
In making the trip, Obama is beginning to define her White House role. She has said the needs of military families will be one her top priorities.
"Military families bear a very heavy burden," Obama said. "They do it without complaint. But we as a nation need to find a way to lighten their load."
Apparently, the plight of our military families has greatly improved over the last few months (pardon our sarcasm), or Mrs. Obama is angling for "bigger" issues, as indicated by the Post report.
Truth be told, we're always a little suspicious of any politician--or politician's spouse--who suddenly "discovers" the military. It's worth remembering that Mrs. Obama's discussions with military families began at a rather opportune moment during last year's campaign--about the time her husband took a pass on visiting wounded warriors at an Army medical center in Germany.
Additionally, those forums had all the trappings of a campaign event. As the Military Times papers reported last August, participation in Michelle Obama's Norfolk meeting was limited to armed forces members, dependents and retirees who were campaign volunteers, or invited by the campaign. Not exactly a "cross-section" of the U.S. military.
Obviously, Mrs. Obama is free to create her own role in the White House, and pursue as many policy issues as she chooses. But it also seems clear that her interest in military family issues is on the wane. That won't go unnoticed by the very people she promised to help.