Critic's Notebook: In Michelle Obama's Farewell Interview With Oprah, a Reminder of Why She'll Be Missed
During a wide-ranging conversation with Oprah Winfrey, the wildly popular First Lady emphatically stated that she has no intention of ever running for president. Sigh.
Is there anyone Michelle Obama can’t beguile? If you’ve seen the picture of her hugging a rapturous George W. Bush looking like a puppy having his belly scratched, you know the answer. She apparently had the same effect on Donald Trump during their recent first meeting at the White House, about which he said that “she could not have been nicer.” So it’s understandable that he refrained from condemning her most publicized remark from her interview with Oprah Winfrey that aired on CBS Monday night: “Now we feel what not having hope feels like.” Trump told his audience at a recent rally that he believes “she meant the statement in a different way” and that “she was talking about the past, not the future.”
Sorry, Donald, but the interview made it pretty clear that she meant exactly what she said.
Sitting in front of a roaring fire in the holiday-decorated White House, Oprah and the First Lady had the sort of intimate chat that was only missing glasses of red wine. The biggest takeaway from the hourlong interview was a reminder of how much we’re going to miss her.
More depressing, Michelle made clear that she had absolutely no intention of ever running for the office that her husband is about to vacate. She delivered an emphatic “no” to Oprah’s hopeful query, saying that she had no intention of putting her family through another eight years of a job that “requires a lot of sacrifice."
Her comments emanating the intelligence, empathy, and infectious humor that has made her one of the most popular First Ladies in history, Michelle said that she and Barack would do everything they could to facilitate a smooth transition of power.
“It is important for the nation that we support the commander in chief,” she told Oprah. “It wasn’t done for my husband, but we’re going high.” She added that “my door is open” to Melania for advice whenever she needs it, much as Laura Bush graciously offered it to Michelle eight years ago.
The First Lady also made it clear that the recently ended campaign had not been easy for her.
“The past election was a challenge for me as a citizen,” she told Oprah. Referring to her powerful, emotional speech in New Hampshire in which she condemned Trump’s language about women, she explained, “The context of that speech was unique. It was not a normal thing…it required a different kind of response.”
When Oprah asked how she handled the intense pressures of being First Lady, Michelle said that “being a grown-up” was the key. She hesitated when queried about what was her greatest impact, not wanting to sound grandiose, but eventually allowed that it had to do with being a strong and assertive woman in the White House.
News clips scattered throughout the broadcast vividly illustrated what a powerful and uplifting presence Michelle has been for the last eight years — not to mention being perhaps the coolest First Lady ever, more than holding her own whether dancing with Ellen DeGeneres or carpool karaoking with James Corden.
“We’re the happy side of the White House,” Michelle said about herself and her staff, adding, “We were the joy masters.”
Toward the end of the interview, who should casually stroll into the room but Barack, paying tribute to his wife by saying that she “blended purpose and policy with fun.” He also said that when they leave the White House in January, they’ll be “going someplace warm.”
Asked what her prayer for the country would be, Michelle answered, “hope,” and that “we find a place in our hearts to love each other.” Right now, that seems like a very tall order.
True to form, Oprah ended the interview on a casual, girlie note, suggesting that once Michelle leaves the White House, the two of them should go “glamping.” The First Lady seemed up for it, suggesting Yosemite National Park as a possible destination. Sounds like a terrific reality show in the making.