Saturday, March 28, 2020

My hero, Michelle Obama

The personal connections hit me deeply:
"I had failed.
I had never in my life failed a test. . . . But I'd blown it with the bar. I was ashamed, sure that I'd let down every person who'd ever taught, encouraged, or employed me."
Like Michelle, I failed my first bar exam. It wasn't because we weren't smart or didn't study hard. It just happens to a lot of people when the two-day test is extremely tricky to keep the passage rates low. It was only 58% on my first try of the Maryland bar exam and only 56% six months later when I did pass. Michelle passed the Illinois exam on her second try too.

The second one also hit me joyfully:
He worked late at night in a small room we'd converted to a study at the rear of our apartment--a crowded, book-strewn bunker I referred to lovingly as the Hole. I'd sometimes go in, stepping over his piles of paper to sit on the ottoman in front of his chair while he worked, trying to lasso him with a joke and a smile, to tease him back from whatever far-off fields he'd been galloping through. He was good-humored about my intrusions, but only if I didn't stay to long.
Barack, I've come to understand, is the sort of person who needs a hole, a closed off little warren where he can read and write undisturbed. It's like a hatch that opens directly into the spacious skies of his brain. . . ."
Socially-distancing in my "hole," I finally go around to reading Becoming by Michelle Obama.

Political Biography has been a favorite genre for many years. This is one of the good ones. And not just because I found those personal connections. The book is well-written with proper credit given to collaborators, editors, researchers, etc.

It is a straight-forward telling of Michelle's story and her marriage to President Obama. There is no sense of shame or apology for her life and choices. She addresses her challenges and recognizes her privileges. One of those is coming from a remarkably well-grounded and seemingly unexceptional family background.

Michelle is not the political one in the family making her insights perhaps more interesting. She barely references Mitt Romney who was her husband's opponent in 2012. She explains how she and Hillary Clinton became good friends after the bruising 2008 primaries. Genuine friendship developed developed among the Bidens and the Obamas. And she has a few words to say about donald trump.

Shortly after the video broke in 2016 with trump's disgustingly vulgar comments about sexual assaults on women, Michelle was to speak on behalf of Candidate Hillary Clinton:
Since childhood, I'd believed it was important to speak out against bullies while also not stooping to their level. And to be clear, we were now up against a bully, a man who among other things demeaned minorities and expressed contempt for prisoners of war, challenging the dignity of our country with practically his every utterance. I wanted Americans to understand that words matter--that the hateful language they heard coming from their TVs did not reflect the true spirit of our country and that we could vote against it. It was dignity I wanted to make an appeal to--for the idea that as a nation we might hold on to the core thing that had sustained my family, going back generations. Dignity had always gotten us through. It was a choice, and not always the easy one, but the people I respected most in life made it again and again, every single day. There was a motto Barack and I tried to live by, and I offered it that night from the stage: When they go low, we go high.

Somehow the electoral college tallies overcame the majority of voters that tried to preserve some dignity. The loss was devastating. Michelle kept her calm but not her smile at trump's inaugural.

While not in her book, she can take some solace that she was not the only one troubled by the inaugural. Three people reported that her friend, George W. Bush, commented after trump's address,  "That was some weird [expletive]."

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