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Mitchell: What’s the fuss over the new Obama book?

Updated: February 11, 2012 8:19AM

Excerpts from the latest book about President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle titled The Obamas is stirring up a buzz.

The book, written by New York Times reporter Jodi Kantor, will officially hit shelves on Tuesday. Pundits are already weighing in on the portrait Kantor has painted of Michelle Obama based on interviews with 33 current and former aides.

Reviewers are describing Kantor’s book as “explosive” and “juicy,” and I suppose it is.

After all, the Obamas have stuck to a careful script, granting limited access to only a handful of national reporters since ascending to the White House in 2008.

Anything we learn about their private lives is going to be juicy.

But from the excerpts published in the New York Times last Saturday, I don’t get the “explosive.”

For instance, revelations that Michelle Obama initially wanted to delay moving to the White House so that her children could finish out the school year in Chicago is being treated like a shocking faux pas. What’s so surprising?

Before Washington beckoned, Mrs. Obama was a Harvard-trained lawyer, an executive at one of the nation’s leading hospitals, the mother of two school-aged children, and the only daughter of a widowed mother.

It is common for the wives of high-level executives to stay behind until the kids finish the school year. Why wouldn’t Mrs. Obama think the rules of good child-rearing applied to the White House as well.

But Mrs. Obama’s desire to delay her White House move was “telling” to Kantor.

“[S]he didn’t understand or care what sort of message it would send to a public enthralled by the new first family, and she had trepidations about life in the spotlight, let alone the prospect of residing in a monument-museum-office-military-compound-terrorist-target-home,” Kantor observed.

This view, however, makes the first lady look callous — so much so that Barbara Walters felt compelled to take up her defense during “The View” on Monday morning.

“We don’t give our opinions, but I think she has been a terrific first lady,” Walters said.

Revelations that there was ongoing friction between Mrs. Obama and President Obama’s team: former Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, and that the first lady didn’t shrink from criticizing the president’s administration threatens to resurrect the unflattering media image Mrs. Obama had to counteract during the last campaign.

Worse yet, Washington Bureau Chief Lynn Sweet reported on Kantor’s book on Monday and noted that during the time Mrs. Obama worked in the Daley administration, she “disapproved of how closely Daley held power.”

Citing Kantor, Sweet wrote:

“. . . She particularly resented the way power in Illinois was locked up generation after generation by a small group of families, all white Irish Catholic — the Daleys in Chicago, the Hynes and Madigans statewide.”

Ironically, also on Monday, Bill Daley announced his resignation as White House Chief of Staff. Even if the timing of the two occurrences is a coincidence, imagine the mischief the president’s critics will try to stir up.

Obama’s opponents have already tried to cast his wife as bossy, unpatriotic and ungrateful. Indeed, some of the Internet caricatures and postings about Mrs. Obama bordered on racial attacks.

Although Kantor concludes that Michelle Obama has become a “determined advocate” for her husband’s re-election, and has grown into her role in the East Wing, some readers are likely to judge the first lady harshly.

That will be unfortunate because Kantor has pulled back the curtain on an authentic American family.

As first lady, Michelle Obama has set an example that we all could follow.

As a mother, she puts her daughters, Sasha and Malia, first.

As a wife, she has her husband’s back.

As a daughter, she looks out for her own mother.

One day, her Washington experience will be over. But her family is forever. She gets it even if we do not.

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