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Michelle Obama: from lightning rod to mom-in-chief

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“She’s extremely popular, the most popular person in Team Obama,” says Anita McBride, former chief of staff to first lady Laura Bush. 


The first lady decided to throw open the doors to the White House to personally greet the public after moving into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The East Wing, which houses her office, is also the visitors entrance. 

“It was a symbolic start to this administration,” says Camille Johnston, the first lady's former White House communications director.

Obama is a hugger. She works a rope line like an old friend, observers say. That public approach – warm and neighborly – has colored much of her work in the White House. In 2010, Obama launched Let’s Move, an initiative to tackle childhood obesity by promoting healthy eating habits and exercise. The effort is built around several programs, including one boosted by corporate partnerships with Walmart, Walgreens, and Supervalu, which have pledged to expand stores in communities that lack access to healthy foods.  

“I have never seen major corporate concerns and big-time sports get behind a major initiative like this,” Ms. Gutin says.

Some of the president’s political opponents have suggested that the White House shouldn’t be in the business of telling parents what to feed their children. But the wholesome images of Mrs. Obama planting vegetables in the White House garden with local children help to offset such criticism – and earn public relations points for the administration. She looks more like the local Parent Teacher Association president than a stern policy scold, and so she has largely avoided the pitfall of becoming a polarizing political spouse, as former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton did during her battle for health-care reform. 

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