And not everyone can afford to keep it all together, especially here in Muskingum County, where, according to the census, the median household income in 2004 was $37,192, below both the Ohio and national average. Out of that, there’s the mortgage. And child care. Health care. Education. Lessons. “I know we’re spending — I added it up for the first time — we spend between the two kids, on extracurriculars outside the classroom, we’re spending about $10,000 a year on piano and dance and sports supplements and so on and so forth,” Mrs. Obama tells the women. “And summer programs. That’s the other huge cost. Barack is saying, ‘Whyyyyyy are we spending that?’ And I’m saying, ‘Do you know what summer camp costs?’”Indeed, when Obama flew out to the 2000 Democratic convention in LA, he couldn't rent a car at the airport because his credit card was maxed out.
With all those concerns, one might wonder whether the women should be comforting Mrs. Obama, but she assures them that she’s really O.K. “We don’t complain because we’ve got resources because of our education. We’ve got family structure,” she says. “So I tell people don’t cry for me.”
But there are still problems. As she has many times in the past, Mrs. Obama complains about the lasting burden of student loans dating from her days at Princeton and Harvard Law School. She talks about people who end up taking years and years, until middle age, to pay off their debts. “The salaries don’t keep up with the cost of paying off the debt, so you’re in your 40s, still paying off your debt at a time when you have to save for your kids,” she says.
“Barack and I were in that position,” she continues. “The only reason we’re not in that position is that Barack wrote two best-selling books… It was like Jack and his magic beans. But up until a few years ago, we were struggling to figure out how we would save for our kids.”
York sums up:
None of the women at the table has had it particularly easy, but as each tells her story, one, Heather Snoddy, a hairdresser in Zanesville, remains silent. At the end, after hearing from everyone else, Mrs. Obama looks toward Snoddy and asks if there is anything she wants to say. “The only thing that we’re concerned about in our family is bringing more jobs to this area,” Snoddy says. Her husband works in Columbus, nearly 60 miles away. “We are so fortunate and grateful that he has a job there,” Snoddy adds, but the price of gas adds to the problem of an already-difficult schedule. “He leaves at 4 A.M. to be at work by 5:30, and doesn’t get home until 5 at night. With my job, I’m not home sometimes ‘til 8 or 9, because my job works better because I serve people who have been working all day. So when it comes down to it, we only have one family day a week, on Sunday, that all of us are together.”Something I've noticed over and over again is that normal people feel sorrier over minor indignities suffered by celebrities like Michelle Obama than they feel bad over major problems suffered by other normal people.
Mrs. Obama nods in agreement and says she and her husband do much the same thing. “We do that split day,” she says. “‘O.K. — you’ve got them, I’ve got them.’ When we’re together, we’re like, ‘Oh, everybody’s here — isn’t that strange?’”
I talk to Snoddy afterward, and she is genuinely touched by her time with Mrs. Obama. “I just thought it was an amazing experience, that she actually took the time out of her schedule to come and speak with us,” Snoddy tells me.
The New Yorker has a long, upbeat article about Michelle, but eventually the writer, Lauren Collins winds up flailing around in her inability to find much else to say about the potential First Lady that's both positive and interesting.
One thing that's interesting:
"In 2005, their income was $1.67 million, which was more than they had earned in the previous seven years combined."That means they averaged less that $238,000, for 1998-2004, but probably more than $208,000; otherwise, the reporter would have said "which was more than they had earned in the previous eight years combined." Obama was elected to the state legislature in 1996, so I presume that if he had had to publish his tax returns for the seven years 1998-2004, he must have had to publish his tax return for 1997 as well.
A quick Google finds a Chicago Tribune article that reports their 2002 income, before the book deals and Michelle's amazing $195k raise after he got elected to the Senate, to be $259,394. In 1998, they made $191,146. So, the average was likely in the $208k-$238k range.
The 5'-11" Michelle, who definitely looks like she could win a fistfight with any First Lady in history, works out with a personal trainer four days per week, according to The New Yorker. At, say, $75 per hour, that would come to about $15k per year, more than they spend on their daughters' enrichment.
They also send their two daughters to the private and exclusive University of Chicago Lab Schools, where tuition runs from $15k-$20k per year apiece, but they may get some kind of faculty discount.
Listening to Mrs. Obama, you can imagine why Mr. Obama made the potentially disastrous decision in 2005 to involve the notorious criminal Tony Rezko in his purchase of an expensive South Side mansion with four fireplaces for the family. Because Rezko went on trial last Monday, the day before the latest elections, Obama's decision might have cost him the Texas primary, in which a victory would have knocked Mrs. Clinton out of contention.
The New Yorker makes one important point:
"Perhaps Obama’s high-handedness is preëmptive, her way of “claiming a seat at the table”—as she is fond of calling enfranchisement in the power-brokering structure—rather than waiting to be offered one. It’s as though she figures she might as well say that she and her husband are all that before someone can say that they aren’t. And there’s a sort of strategic genius to her presentation of campaigning as grinding work that takes her away from her family, rather than a glorious tour of the world’s greatest country that she would be thrilled to be undertaking even if she didn’t have to. She frequently tells her audiences, “I don’t care where I am, the first question is ‘How are you managing it all? How are you holding up?’ ” The effect, of course, is to set up an expectation of tribute, like those hairdressers who display all their gifts in the days leading up to Christmas. By loudly voicing her distaste for retail politicking, Obama makes people feel as though, by showing up, she were doing them a favor."So, the secret of Michelle Obama's appeal is that she's self-absorbed, self-pitying, and not all that bright — just like most people. The only difference is that she's self-assertive and famous. So people love her.