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Michelle Obama: Even Daughter Worried About Media Portrayal of Her 'Patrotism'

08/12/2008 05:12 am 05:12:01 | Updated May 25, 2011

For years, Connie Schultz has been one of my favorite local columnists, going back to her Pulitzer-winning days at Cleveland's Plain Dealer. She has since gone "national," via a syndicated column, two books, and the attention she received as the wife of Sherrod Brown, who won a surprising victory to the U.S. Senate from Ohio two years ago.

In her column, however, she tends to downplay the latter angle, so it was a little surprising -- but gratifying -- to see her latest column, where she reports on her interview with Michelle Obama, a fellow senatorial spouse, but with one key difference of course (well, more than one, as you know).

Schultz writes, from experience: "Anyone who has endured a high-stakes political race knows that campaigning requires a willingness to suffer a seemingly endless series of small humiliations. All that begging for campaign contributions, posing for photo ops and talking about me, me, me as the press corps yawns.

"When you are the political spouse, who is still usually a wife, you also can feel reduced to a life of serial irrelevance."

Obama says she is especially intent on winning over Hillary voters: "The way I see it? There are a lot of people like me, like how I am about my husband, my candidate. They invested their hearts and souls into Hillary Clinton, and many of them did this for years. They have to figure out how they want to leverage their political power. I understand that. Politics is a patience game. You can't do this unless you have patience."

Here is a brief excerpt that touches on The New Yorker cover controversy -- and Obama's own daughter's question about her patriotism.

"I need stability and evenness, and not paying attention to media coverage helps. It's usually either really, really good or really, really bad, which doesn't reflect what people are thinking."

Sometimes, though, she can't ignore it, such as when The New Yorker ignited a firestorm with its recent cover depicting Barack Obama as a Muslim and her as an Afro-wearing, fist-bumping terrorist.

"My first reaction to that was: 'Oh, my goodness. This is awful.' Fortunately, our girls are young enough where they don't read The New Yorker."

It's not always possible to insulate her daughters from controversy, though: "They do pick up on things. Malia asked Barack a question about my patriotism. I was in another room, but I heard her ask him: 'Some people are saying Mommy doesn't like her country. What's that about?'

She sighed when asked how that made her feel.

"My view, as a mom, is there isn't a right moment for this kind of thing. When it comes up is when we talk about it."

Related: Connie Schultz's column
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Greg Mitchell's new book is So Wrong for So Long: How the Press, the Pundits -- and the President -- Failed on Iraq. He is editor of Editor & Publisher.