tv Meet the Presss Press Pass NBC April 26, 2015 11:30am-11:46am EDT
this is "press pass," your all access pass to an extra "meet the press" conversation. >> this week on "press pass," a portrait of the nation's first african-american first lady. from her working class roots in the south side of chicago, all the way to the white house. it is all in the new book "michelle obama:a life" by peter slevin. welcome to "press pass." congratulations on the book. >> much obliged. >> let's start with a question i get asked about the obamas. does michelle obama like being first lady? >> that was not a life she would have chosen. she really had a very independent identity in chicago, in civic life and professional
life. it is very clear they had some tough conversations. >> they talk about. >> they talk about -- >> they talk about the marital problems around the turn of the century. >> they talked about their lives. they have been public about some of the challenges they faced. in 2006 the very end of 2006 the team was ready to go ready to try to get barack obama elected. and they wanted to make sure that michelle was on board. >> what got her on board? >> she believes in him. she felt that this man could be a terrific president. she knew as his partner that this was something he needed to try to do. she thought about it. she's a listmaker. she said i took myself down every dark road i could imagine, and she said we can do this. >> i get the impression of her as a constrained person in this role as first lady. and i think frankly it to me looks strikingly similar to laura bush who felt constrained and sort of -- it has been the impact of hillary clinton.
for better for worse, hillary tried to have a more of a role as first lady in that first term it politically back fired, and then there has almost been a relapse where laura bush and michelle obama both came to the decision i can't be political. >> i would say michelle obama is political in the issues she has chosen. not so much in the day to day, who's up who's down washington -- >> they're populous issues. >> they are. they're populist. i think there is something that unites them. if you look at how she's working to improve access to education for disadvantaged kids if you think about who is buying the school lunches that of course are so controversial, and how, what 70% of them are bought by children who pay, get free lunches or reduced price lunches and other things they connect with who she is and where she came from. it is true it is important to point out, she has tried and
this is, as you say, true of laura, they vice presidenthaven't tried to do anything as remotely as ambitious as what hillary clinton did. >> i get the impression that she wishes she could. >> i'm not sure she would want to really run things. she's made clear -- she made clear to her staff early on she wanted to choose issues she felt she could make a difference, she could move the needle. she's strategic about what she's chosen. i don't think, like, rosalind carter she wanted to sit in on cabinet meetings or eleanor roosevelt wanted a job in the federal government. >> how does her role as sounding board for the president? do you get a sense of what is it? is it -- is she truly the last adviser in the room type of thing, type of adviser to the president? is it -- did she -- what is it? >> they're friends and her staff talk about their partnership. not so much the co-presidency, obviously.
that's a loaded concept. i don't think she would ever suggest that it is. but he trusts her. he has talked about how much he trusts her opinion, how she has a feel for issues. she has a feel for people. she's out a little bit more after all than she is. and i think one of the things that is striking about the second term -- >> she's out and away where she's not -- there is not media hoards. she gets a tiny bit -- >> a little bit more. >> a little bit more interaction with normal life. >> right. in fact she goes out and sees her friends and she's, you know she goes out, you know and about in town with the secret service, of course but as you say, not with the press pool. i think that's right. >> what -- i think there has been this assumption there was a moment during the early -- that early moment in the campaign she said that line, first time i was proud to be an american and all of a sudden after that moment the campaign staff hit her. eventually put her in campaign siberia until the convention when all was well again. how much of an impact did that
have on her, sort of as sort of the politics of that moment where -- how much did it chasten her? >> i think it had an extraordinary influence on her. in several ways though. for one thing, she was really surprised by how dramatic the reaction was to that statement. and she didn't really hide her light under a bushel right away. she continues to talk about the themes that had animated her, about the stacked deck about the world being a little mean and a little unfair she talked about in 2007 and '08. another thing that was significant about that comment and what happened after was she was mortified. she feared that she had done damage to her husband's campaign and that was the last thing she wanted to do. so if you fast-forward to her arrival in the white house, one of her first goals was to do no harm. >> i think you do get that sense when she's been very careful with what she does. a quick break. more from peter slevin on his
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and we're back now with former washington post national reporter peter slevin about his new book about the first lady. let's talk about race. she had, i guess, a more conventional african-american experience than barack obama. >> right. >> that is that -- and you talked to some people and they'll say, michelle is his
sounding board when it comes to race issues or at least was his introduction to race issues. is that what you found? >> i wouldn't say she introduced him to race. i mean he is still a black man growing up in america. it is interesting how she has spoken about race and his race in politics politically. when he was getting criticism, running against bobby rush for congress a race that he lost by 31 points a number of his black opponents said of him that he's not really quite black enough. >> that was an issue barack obama faced in '06 -- early parts of the presidential campaign. not black enough. whatever that meant, you know. it had nothing to do with color. >> right. and so she stood up for him, and she said in a very interesting interview at one point, barack obama has done more for this community than many other people
who are talking about barack's blackness, she said i can say that because i'm black. i grew up on the south side of chicago. trust me on this. >> her experiences, she had her own experiences with race. going to ivy league schools, very white privileged kids. here is this african-american girl from the south side of chicago. >> right. >> what was that like? >> she arrived at princeton in 1981. she was 17 years old. >> wow. >> and she said by the time she left princeton, that she was more aware of her blackness than she had ever been on the south side of chicago. and her time at princeton and at harvard was a time when she was thinking about conundrums of race and obligation what her role would be at harvard what does it mean to be a lawyer and a black lawyer. >> what she was saying is she wasn't raised with always thinking about race. >> right. >> as a kid. and the minute she goes to this higher institution, it is thrown in her face.
>> well there was -- had to have been an awareness of race. >> that is a -- it just shows -- it is just an interesting discovery. >> it had to do with how she felt treated, even when students were nice to her, and professors were interested in her, she felt slightly apart. but it is important i think to remember her upbringing on the south side. she grew up in a working class neighborhood south shore. she knew her grandparents very well. very tight knit family. one of her grandfathers was a postal worker but she has said if he were born white, probably would have been a bank president. another grandfather couldn't get a good job as a carpenter because black people were not allowed to join a union. so she was very mindful of this. and yet by the same token, that same grandfather who ended up as a postal worker rather than perhaps something he would have enjoyed more he told her, your destiny is not determined the day you're born. yes, life is maybe a little unfair but get on with it. you can be whoever you want to be. >> she was told not to apply to
princeton. >> her adviser said you are shooting a little too high here. that's that they said. whitney young high. and she likes to prove people wrong. one of her aides told me. you don't ever want to underestimate michelle obama. >> if barack obama's not president of the united states what is michelle obama doing today? >> she's probably not riding around with the secret service. exactly. thinking of all the things she's not allowed to do. she sat out after she graduated from law school and after she had a brief experience in corporate law to try to make a difference on the south side particularly with disadvantaged communities, communities that she had known very well growing up. it certainly appears that that's what she wants to keep doing after she leaves the white house. she said she'll focus on education, which she calls one of the most important civil -- >> when you hear education, but is there a specific thing? and we know what the president, i think my brother's keep we
know what he wants to go with it and wants to make it post presidential. does she have a separate track? >> i think she is very consistent with the notion of expanding opportunity with what i call in the book unstacking the deck a little bit. it is not at all clear she's exactly what forum that will take. but she said and her advisers said that education will be an important part of her future. >> what have been her thoughts about raising a family in the white house? >> it is just really hard. she arrived in the white house and her first concern was getting malia and sasha settled. she spent a great deal of time doing that and trying to make their absolutely abnormal lives as normal -- >> i hear she loves the education that the girls are getting. i hear she's pleasantly surprised how good it is. >> well they came from a terrific school in chicago. lab school. and they ended up at sidwell friends what's not to like? >> the word you hear where are they going to live?
sasha will not be done with high school when he's out of office and the word on the street that i hear is they're not moving. that they're going to like for first time since jimmy carter they're going to stay until she's done with school. >> a fascinating thing. >> can you imagine two presidents hanging around washington? >> she said and barack obama said as well that if sasha wants to stay here that's what they'll do. >> well it is -- this is i think she's become enormously popular. did she expect that? to become the most popular obama? >> i think she was really struck at a certain moment early first term when she realized that what she was saying what she long had been thinking translated and people were listening to it and she's drawn enormous crowds in the political season, but also an enormous following in conversations with young women, for example. >> a level of credibility she brings. >> it is -- >> seems to be above politics. >> the word people use is authenticity. >> tough to be in this world, in