June 18, 2009 6:27 PM
Michelle Obama On Love, Family & Politics
He's delivered major comprehensive addresses on energy and the economy and healthcare and education. Barack is probably one of the most substantive politicians that you'll ever meet. But it's easy to sort of focus on the inspiration because that's what gets people to move. But there's a whole lot of there there.
That's sort of the least of my worries about Barack because it's just a matter of sitting down and, you know, to see him put together in a year a political organization that has done all of this shows that there's a lot more than just good talking going on. I mean, you don't get to this stage in a presidential race without knowing how to build an organization and pull together a set of policies and to get through some tough debates and to move some political advocates and to make some major substantive impacts.
You don't get here on just words. You don't get this far on just words. So, you know, I think that's an easy way to kind of minimize, sort of, the effect that he's having on this country, which is pretty real.
Couric: This must be an extremely heady experience for both of you. And I know you have said he's always had a healthy ego. How do you keep it all in check?
Obama: You know, he's got a healthy ego because anybody who decides they're gonna be president of the United States has to think well of themselves.
But the truth is there are a lot of bumps and bruises along this, you know, campaign trail. There are a lot of humbling experiences. I mean, as I said, Barack has spent most of this year being the person who has no chance of winning.
So what Barack is telling voters every day is, you know, don't bet on me. Bet on yourselves because that's how we're gonna make this change. Me and all of you working together, hitting some bumps in the road but doing some great things, if we act with courage and wisdom. So I think his whole message is one that is a bit more humble than people give him credit for.
Couric: You talked about the question of whether there was enough substance … behind the rhetoric is the least of your worries. What is your biggest worry?
Obama: You know, this is hard. The changes that we need to make in this country are gonna be hard, and they're gonna require a whole lot of sacrifice from every single American. And it's gonna require a level of unity in this country that we haven't seen yet and we haven't experienced it, at least in my adult lifetime.
So when you approach this with a notion that this is gonna be hard, you know, you wanna make sure that you're going into this with your eyes open and prepared for … the natural bumps and bruises that are gonna come in this process. This isn't, you know, this is a hard job.
Couric: Do you worry at all that this message of hope, which is so uplifting and inspiring, but … do you worry this message of hope could be setting unrealistically high expectations? Unifying the country, healing the wound, making, you know, unlimited progress in all sorts of areas. It sounds so great, but do you think people will expect too much?
Obama: You know, you have to start with hope. You know, you don't get anywhere in this country without hope. So it's a necessity. What Barack says is that people have to understand hope isn't just blind optimism. It isn't passive. It isn't just sitting there waiting for things to get better.
Hope is the vision that you have to have. It's the inspiration that moves people into action. Right? There are more people engaged in this political process in this year than we've seen in my lifetime. And it is all because of hope because people believe in the possibility of something unseen.
They have to believe that things can change. It starts there, right? The next step is the work. It's the challenge of then now saying, "Are you ready to roll up your sleeves and set aside your fear and your cynicism and make some sacrifices to move this thing forward?"
And, "Are you willing to, you know, push yourselves for change?" So if it were just blind optimism I'd say you're right. But there are a lot of plans and strategies and policies that are gonna have to be in place. And people are gonna have to stay engaged. I mean, what Barack always says, it's not about voting in the upcoming primary and getting Barack to the Oval Office. It's ensuring that people stay engaged …
Couric: And invested.
Obama: At the table and invested, not just for the presidential election but what's going on in Congress every single day. What's going on in your statehouse every single day. What's going on at the councilman level. And Americans can't turn on and off, just when it's time to elect the next president.
Couric: But you know how stressful people's lives are and how busy they are and …
Couric: How they're struggling to make ends meet. Is that expecting too much of people, every day to know what your local councilman is doing?
Obama: You know, if more of us are doing it, it takes the burden off of more of us. You know? I mean, now if there are only five active citizens in your town, well, yeah, that's … a heavy burden. But if there were a choice, I'd say, yeah, you're right, you know?
Just go back to your lives as usual. Just keep shopping. But that's what we've been doing. And we don't get the outcomes that we hope for in a nation when we're not paying attention. That's just the unfortunate I guess reality of a democracy. That it requires active engagement. And for so long we've had leadership that's been happy with us being engaged at marginal levels.
You know, if people can get the win with most people staying home, a lot of people take the win. But what Barack is saying is that winning isn't enough when you want change. And that means that people have to find a way to move beyond … their hectic schedules and engage at some level, you know? Maybe not every single day, but at least on a regular basis. And, you know, that can't be too much to ask, you know?
When you're talking about ensuring that your kids have a decent public school to go to, what's more important than that? And how do you ensure that that happens? How do you ensure that the government, the federal government, is going to invest enough resources to ensure that every single child in this country has access to a decent education?
What on earth could be more important than that? And we're at a point now where it hasn't happened. That hasn't happened. So us sitting aside, not doing anything, hasn't led to good schools for all kids. So we have to do something differently.
Couric: Your husband's experience has been repeatedly questioned. Some voters worry that with three years in the Senate he needs a little more experience under his belt before he's ready. What do you tell people who are worried about that?
Obama: I tell people that in our politics we measure by this very narrow definition. And a lot of times its years in Washington, or whether you've made a lot of money running a very large corporation. I mean, we just tend to weigh certain experiences more than others. But what I say is that the measure of leadership is the choices that people made over a lifetime, not when everybody's looking.
Couric: Like what?
Obama: Community organizing. Now, when was the last time we've had a president of the United States who spent years working on the streets in a major city, for years working with people who never had a voice and advocating for better streets, cleaner streets, safer communities? Somebody who has worked as a constitutional law scholar, [as a] civil rights attorney, for years.
Barack could have been a partner at a major law firm. He could have worked on Wall Street. He probably could have been the CEO of a company. But he made choices to work on issues of justice, things like housing discrimination and employment discrimination. Barack has more legislative experience than Hillary Clinton does. Barack has spent eight years, in addition to his work as a U.S. Senator, in the state legislature.
And I would think that having a President of the United States who understands how federal law impacts local government would be useful. And it's not just anywhere. I mean, when people talk about whether Barack is tough enough to handle the Republicans I say, yeah, we've grown up in Chicago politics; Illinois politics. Some of the toughest politics that you'll see anywhere in this country.
And Barack has been able to make major movements in legislation in our state, like passing health care … expanding it for kids in our state, passing an earned income tax credit for the working poor, working on ethics reform in a state that hadn't seen it in more than 25 years. I mean, I could go on about the accomplishments he's done, most of the time working in the minority at a state legislative level. Those are real experiences. They're ones that his opponent can't claim.
So this is what happens in politics. We define experiences narrowly so that … it just points to the few things that you've done. And then the other stuff that the other person has done isn't experience. Barack is highly experienced. It's not conventional experience that we're used to seeing, because most people have spent a whole lot of time in Washington building their experiences.
Barack has traveled the world, lived in other countries. He brings a certain unconventional approach to the Oval Office. And what people are saying all around the country is that that's what they're looking for. They're not looking for the conventional years in Washington. We've done that. So let's try something new. Let's bring somebody in who's … gonna look at this stuff in a very different perspective. And that's exactly what I tell people.
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