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Michelle Obama’s story

In many ways she would make history as first lady.

(Page 3 of 4)

Her humor – in particular, her attempt to humanize Barack by pointing out his domestic foibles – doesn’t always translate well, especially in print.

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Comments like her one to Glamour magazine that he is “snore-y and stinky” when he gets up in the morning can come across as glib and disrespectful.

Her campaign speeches – in which Obama often focuses on the difficulties facing Americans today, sometimes telling her audience that Barack “will demand” such things as shedding cynicism or engaging in the political process – strike some as overly negative and didactic.

“Almost every time the candidate’s wife speaks extemporaneously she seems to offer some bon mot consistent with that bleak assessment” of America, wrote Mark Steyn in a National Review cover story this spring that dubbed her “Mrs. Grievance.”

An NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll a month ago showed that 31 percent of Americans held a negative view of Obama, compared with 16 percent who hold a negative view of Cindy McCain. (In the same poll, 34 percent expressed a positive opinion of Obama, and 28 percent gave a positive reaction to Mrs. McCain.)

Since the oft-quoted remark about her pride in her country, Obama and others have said she was referring only to the political process. But she has also been more careful and guarded in her comments since then.

Her friends, meanwhile, shake their heads at the “angry black woman” caricatured in right-wing media and blogs, saying it bears no relation to the woman they know. “She’s had a magical life,” says Ms. Acree, who recently traveled with Obama for several days of campaigning. “What does she have to be angry about?”

Ogletree, her former professor, says, “They’ve been focused on trying to create a Michelle Obama who doesn’t exist.”

Jose Rico, the founding principal of the Multicultural Arts High School in Chicago, and a Public Allies fellow under Obama more than a decade ago, is particularly surprised at those who question her patriotism. He notes that at Public Allies, Obama was the one who helped him become less disillusioned with America and showed him the value of taking part in the political process.

Originally an undocumented immigrant who had just received his legal residency, Mr. Rico felt alienated and was set on not becoming a US citizen.

“She was the one who really challenged me to think about that, in terms of the change I wanted to make, and how that would translate not just to my community, but on a broader scale,” remembers Rico, who went on to earn his citizenship and to achieve his dream of starting a high school, in which Obama also encouraged and challenged him.

Rico and others say that although Obama is an exacting boss with high expectations – and is a fairly strict taskmaster at home as well, where her children and husband all know the chores they’re expected to do – she is also warm and cares about the personal lives of friends and colleagues.

Acree remembers when their mutually close friend from Princeton University, Suzanne Alele, was dying of an illness at a young age in 1990. Obama had just begun working at the law firm Sidley Austin and was trying to prove herself; Acree and Alele were both in Washington. “If Suzanne or I picked up the phone and needed or wanted anything, she was here in a heartbeat,” says Acree. “Suzanne’s death was the first time I really got to see the depth of her love for her friends, how loyal she is.”