Book Review 8-19
Sunday, October 11, 2009

New York, NY - As Barack and Michelle Obama get ready to celebrate their 17th anniversary--their first as President and First Lady--on October 3rd, No. 1 New York Times bestselling author Christopher Andersen claims they are "the most real, down-to-earth, quintessentially American First Couple we've ever had in the White House. Whatever your politics, it's almost impossible not to admire them on a personal level."

Andersen should know. Among his 29 books and 13 New York Times bestsellers are three books about presidential marriages: Jack and Jackie, Bill and Hillary, and George and Laura. In Barack and Michelle: Portrait of an American Marriage (William Morrow), Andersen draws on important sources--some speaking for the first time--to paint a glowing picture of the Obamas as two people who have come through rough times early in their marriage to form an enduring personal and political partnership. "It's a real love story, no doubt about it," says Andersen, "and it differs from other presidential marriages because there is no tension simmering beneath the surface. They are not rivals for power, like Bill and Hillary Clinton were. There is no sense that one is eclipsing or smothering the other. They are equal partners in this, and their friends tell me that their marriage has gotten even stronger since they moved into the White House."

Things were not always so rosy. Both the President and First Lady have spoken openly about the days when he was in the Illinois Senate and spending four nights a week away from home, leaving Michelle alone to take care of their two small daughters Malia and Sasha. "Michelle was lonely--desperately so," their friend Valerie Jarrett recalls in the book. The two quarreled constantly back then, Andersen writes. "Michelle was angry," Barack would later say of this period, "all the time." Andersen points to the night in September 2001 when the Obama's younger daughter Sasha, then just three months old, was stricken with spinal meningitis, as a "pivotal moment in their marriage. They stayed at her bedside in the hospital for 72 hours straight until she was out of danger. Michelle said it was a nightmare, but the experience brought them closer together than they had ever been."

In Barack and Michelle, Andersen also credits Michelle with convincing her husband to adopt the "Yes We Can" slogan, which he initially rejected, and having a major say in picking Joe Biden over Hillary Clinton as his running mate. "Do you really want Bill and Hillary down the hall from you in the White House?" the book quotes Michelle as saying to Barack. "Could you live with that?" Says Andersen, "The President has said she is his chief counsel and advisor, that he wouldn't make a big decision without first asking her opinion. Michelle's no Hillary--she doesn't want to be 'co-president'--but she does have major say in the White House."

There is another thing that distinguishes the Obamas from their predecessors in the White House."The President and First Lady made a conscious decision early on to let us know that they are a married couple like any other--that it's not all smooth sailing," Andersen says. "When she kidded him during the campaign for being sort of a slob around the house, and he shot back that she was 'better looking than I am but a little meaner, too,'--well, it's the kind of give-and-take that any married couple can identify with." In Barack and Michelle, President Obama describes Michelle as "my rock--the one person who keeps it real." Michelle puts her own spin on this characterization of her role: "I'm the badass wife," she says in the book, "who sorta keeps it real."


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