Katie Couric: It's been about a year since your husband decided to go for it and run for President. How would you describe the last year?
Michelle Obama: You know, it's been a whirlwind. When you think about what he's been able to put together in less than a year, I mean, we went from the beginning of this thing where there was an inevitable candidate. As far as the polls and the pundits were concerned, this race was over. And then you sort of start building an organization and raising money and meeting people and having conversations.
And it's just the momentum has continued to grow over the course of this year. And what has been just completely heart warming is to see that people are really hungry for something different. And I'm not trying … to be too political about that. I mean, truly people … want something different for themselves and for their lives.
And people are … feeling the pressure of the ever-increasing gap. They're worried about their kids and they're worried about their health and the challenges … are similar. It transcends race and political party. I mean, people are serious about moving this country in a different direction. And that makes me feel good to know that, you know, I'm not alone in my frustration. It's been a good year.
Couric: I was gonna ask you … do you sense a frustration in people? Because you look at the approval ratings for the president and they're quite low. But the approval rating for Congress [is] even lower.
Obama: Yeah. Yeah, no, people are frustrated. I mean, I think they have a sense that there's something broken in our politics. And it's taken a little while because I think Americans are patient. And they give people a chance. And folks don't like fundamental change.
I mean, they wanna believe that the system as it's structured ... is basically doing what it's supposed to do. But when you've gone through years and years and years of just things getting progressively worse for everyday working people. I think people are at the point where they're frustrated. And they don't see the light at the end of the tunnel.
They don't believe that if we don't make some significant change that things will be fundamentally different for the next generation. And I think that's what people are concerned about. I think, like any parent, you can suck it up for yourself. You can, you know, you can tough it through any bad situation. But I think folks are starting to think about the next generation to follow. And if we don't make those changes ... what's this country gonna look like for our children?
Couric: What do your girls think about this? Your daughter, Malia, is nine. Sasha is six.
Couric: Are they a bit overwhelmed by this whole thing?
Obama: They're not because … this isn't their life. You know, we've done the best that we can to keep them on course. So they're in the same school with the same teachers, with the same friends. And fortunately they go to school where people, you know, they've known us for a while.
People are excited, but they don't treat the girls any differently. So … I get home last night. And what do we talk about? They don't know what's going on in the Potomac. They don't about … the returns in Maryland or Virginia.
Couric: They're not looking ahead to Wisconsin?
Obama: No, they're not looking ahead to … they're talking about Valentine's Day. And Sasha finished her cards. She had two left and she finished them. And they have to take them tomorrow. And one's got a field trip. And they're gonna have pizza for lunch.
And, you know, that those are the highlights. You know, now if we talk to them about it, which I've done with Malia, giving her a sense of how this thing goes, what's the timing, and how long will it take before we know what's new. You know, you'll get a sense within her of the anxiety of a shift, like, if Dad wins, then will we move?
So they have some real practical considerations about what does this mean? Do I go to a new school? Will I make new friends? I mean, it's all the things that you would think a nine year old would be concerned with if she was gonna move.
Couric: On the other hand, do they say, "Gee, Mommy, all these people are cheering for Daddy. This is so weird?" I mean … they must have some sense because you can't completely isolate them.
Obama: Yeah, no, well, when we're out there, they don't really react to it, you know? Malia said this was the night of one of the last caucuses. It was Super Tuesday. And we were … here in Illinois. We had a victory party. And we always ask do they wanna come on stage. And Malia said, "Now, you know, Daddy, that's not my thing."
Couric: I know, he said that actually when he spoke … which is very funny.
Obama: So they had friends there. We had family and friends. And they did not wanna go out there and wave. I mean, it was nice. They've done it before. But … it's interesting because they don't react to it. They don't think, "Wow, Daddy, isn't this interesting?" The little one is much more interested in the limelight. And she likes to wave.
Couric: She's the one who was smiling.
Obama: Oh, yeah.
Couric: When you were photographed on Capitol Hill and actually high-fived Dick Cheney.
Obama: Gave Dick Cheney a high five. So, like, there goes Sasha.
Couric: Let me ask you about when you first met your husband. Before you were married the two of you worked at a law firm together in Chicago. And I read when you he first asked you out, he said, "No, thank you," not wanting to mix business with pleasure.
Couric: But then he invited you somewhere. And your view of him changed dramatically. What was that? And what happened?
Obama: Well, we were friends from the start, because I was his advisor. And my job was to welcome him to the firm. I took him out to lunch. And immediately I liked him because he didn't take himself too seriously but he was very bright, had a very interesting background, just a good guy to talk to. You know, you could laugh easily with him. So I was, like, this is a friend.
But then he asked me out on a date. And I thought, "Well, my advisee. Hmm, I don't think that looks right." But he invited me to go to one of the churches because he had been a community organizer and worked on the far South Side with a group of churches. And he took me to a training that he was doing. And there were mostly single parent mothers, mostly African Americans on the South Side.
And he did a training talking about concept like the world as it is and the world as it should be and how the job of ordinary people in organizing, this is to try to narrow … the gap between those two ideas. And to see him transform himself from the guy who was a summer associate in a law firm with a suit and then to come into this church basement with folks who were like me, who grew up like me, who were challenged and struggling in ways that I never would, and to be able to take off that suit and tie and become a whole 'nother person and connect with people in the same way he had connected with folks in that firm, you don't see someone who can make that transition and do it comfortably and feel comfortable in his own skin and to touch people's hearts in the way that he did, because people connected with his message. And I knew then and there there's something different about this guy. Because you see people who can live well in corporate America. They can wear that uniform well. They can't make the transition and vice versa. Barack lived comfortably in those two worlds.
And it was impressive. And his message was moving. I mean, it touched me.
It made me think differently about what am I doing with my life. And how am I adding to the notion of getting us to the world as it should be? Am I doing it in my law firm? You know? So he made me think in ways that I hadn't before.
Couric: And you were smitten after that.
Obama: I thought … I could hang out with this guy. I was impressed. I really was.
Couric: You've seen the crowds, the way they embrace your husband. Some commentators have used the word "messianic." Do you ever worry that the whole thing, the whole movement is a little over the top for some voters?
Obama: Barack and I talk about this all the time. We talked about it before the decision to run, because … when you're really trying to make serious change, you don't want people to get caught up in emotion because change isn't emotion. Because change isn't emotion. Its real work and organization and strategy - that's just the truth of it. I mean, you pull people in with inspiration, but then you have to roll up your sleeves and you've got to make sacrifices and you have got to have structure.
And you've gotta, you know, you have to have support and you have to have interests to move things forward. So we do think about that all the time.
I mean, that's one of the reasons why we try to laugh at ourselves to sort of keep all this excitement to a reasonable level. That's why I teased Barack about putting up the socks and, you know, making sure he's putting up the butter. It's not that, you know, I'm trying to …
Couric: Emasculate him?
Obama: Exactly. The point is that Barack, like any leader, is human. And, you know, our challenges in this country isn't finding the next person who's gonna deliver us from our own evil. Because our challenges are us. The challenges that this country faces is how are we as individuals in this society gonna change? What are we gonna do differently?
Couric: I was just gonna say, sorry to interrupt. I think as the criticism against him mounts, it sort of, you know, lofty oratory is great. Inspiring words are that, inspiring. But real problems require real solutions more than just rhetoric. I'm sure you've heard that.
Obama: Right, right.
Couric: Both Sen. Clinton and now John McCain are kind of upping the ante in terms of attacking him … for his inspirational message, basically insinuating there's no there there.
Obama: Yeah, well, you know, that's what you do. If you can't do the inspiration, then … they attack the guy that can do both because essentially Barack isn't all flash and fire and brimstone. He's developed very comprehensive approaches to the problems that this nation is gonna face.