The new girlfriend Obama had brought with him to Hawaii the previous Christmas was different from Ann. ... Her father, Fraser Robinson III, a descendant of slaves, had been employed as a maintenance worker, later a foreman in a city water-filtration plant; her mother, Marian, had stayed at home with Michelle and her brother when they were young. The family was hardworking, churchgoing, and close-knit. As an undergraduate at Princeton and as a law student at Harvard, Michelle Robinson had been active in black student organizations. She moved systematically through life, making sensible, carefully considered decisions, each building to the next. "I would say Michelle is much more like our grandmother, [Obama's half sister] Maya told me. "And I would say that my mother and my grandmother really were also opposites." After the Christmas visit, Ann reported back to Surakusuma. "She is intelligent, very tall (6'1"), not beautiful but quite attractive," Ann wrote of Robinson. "She did her BA at Princeton and her law degree at Harvard, But she has spent most of her life in Chicago." Ann, who prided herself on raising her children to have a global perspective, described Robinson as "a little provincial and not as international as Barry." But Ann liked her. "She is nice, though," she said. If Robinson and Obama were to marry after he graduated from law school, Ann told Suryakusuma, she would not be unhappy.By potential mother-in-law standards, "not ... unhappy" is pretty high praise.
I want to put a word in here for Michelle Obama.
She got put on an elite track that she wasn't cut out for by 1) affirmative action, 2) her older brother Craig's popularity as a star basketball player and well-liked personality at Princeton, and (I would imagine) 3) recommendation letters from the man she babysat for: Rev. Jesse Jackson. (Her long friendship with Jackson's daughter might help explain why she had a hard time, during the dizzying heights of Obamamania, agreeing with everybody else that her husband was all that: compared to Jesse at his peak of charisma a generation ago, Barack is kind of dull).
There's so much good will in modern America toward respectable black people like Michelle and Craig Robinson that it winds up sometimes embarrassing one of them by pushing her forward until she finally crashes and burns upon contact with something objective, publicly confirming her deepest worries about herself. It's not surprising that she vaguely resents the many favors white people have done her. As Ben Franklin pointed out, doing favors for people just makes them resent you. (Have them do you a favor instead.)
So, after her super-duper Princeton-Harvard education, her law career at a big time firm was a bust: she didn't pass the easy Illinois bar exam on her first opportunity. It became quickly apparent to all concerned that she wasn't going to make partner. Soon, she was working for Valerie Jarrett in Mayor Daley's office doing whatever it is that people in The Machine do. (I never wanted to ask.) After awhile, she got ensconced on the Diversity & Political Connection/Corruption track.
It's a living.
As a First Lady, she's been fine. Nancy Reagan told people to Just Say No. Laura Bush said to Read Books. Michelle Obama says, Don't Get Fat. These days, that's a pretty good thing for a First Lady to say. And she has to put herself on the line: Laura Bush wasn't going to stop reading books, and if she did, nobody would notice. But if Michelle stops exercising and gets fat, everybody is going to know.