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Fix Pick: Who is Michelle Obama?

Amid the non-stop coverage of the Democratic presidential race, one figure has largely been overlooked: Michelle Obama.

The oversight is easy to understand. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and her husband, former president Bill Clinton, are larger than life figures whose every utterance is analyzed and scrutinized for clues about the state of their marriage and their respective feelings toward one another at any given moment.

It's almost impossible to compete that sort of full-court coverage and, in truth, the Obamas are likely not envious the amount of attention the Clintons' relationship draws from the press.

Still, with Sen. Barack Obama maintaining his status as the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination, surprisingly little is known about the woman who will be first lady if he can defeat Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) in the fall.

Thankfully, the New Yorker's Lauren Collins has penned a piece that addresses this dearth of information about Michelle Obama.

While you should read the article in its entirety, The Fix always aims offer you the essentials. With that in mind, here are the highlights of Collins' piece:

* "Her pride visibly chafes at being asked to subsume her personality, to make herself seem duller and less independent than she is, even in the service of getting her husband elected President of the United States," writes Collins in perhaps the most important -- and illuminating -- sentence of the entire article. David Axelrod, Obama's media consultant and chief political strategist, talks about Michelle Obama's tendency for frank speak: "Occasionally it gives campaign people heartburn. She's fundamentally honest -- goes out there, speaks her mind, jokes. She doesn't parse her words or select them with an antennae for political correctness."

While Axelrod -- as well as the rest of the Obama campaign -- portrays Michelle Obama's candor as a reflection of her "real persona," The Fix remembers similar quotes coming out of the campaign of Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) in 2004 when questions were raised about Teresa Heinz Kerry's willingness to speak her mind on the campaign trail. We're not suggesting an exact parallel between Obama and Heinz Kerry; we're simply noting that a tendency toward candor on the campaign trail has its plusses and minuses.

* Of Michelle Obama's only major slip-up in the campaign to date -- her profession that "for the first time in my adult life time I am really proud of my country" -- Collins writes: "It was a manufactured controversy, but it reflected a real cavalierness on Obama's part -- not toward the Blue Angels and 9/11 and the Berlin Wall and America's Armed Forces, as her various critics had it, but toward the reality that it might be wise for a person whose spouse is running for President not to say something that could be construed that way." Truer words were never spoken/written.

* Michelle Obama, like her husband, is best when addressing big crowds. "She can be squeamish about politicking, put off by the awkward stagecraft of glad-handing and small-group discussions -- Michelle, five or six women, and as she put it one day in Wisconsin 'five thousand cameras' -- that her staff bills as 'intimate conversations'," writes Collins. "But, she thrives in large venues." (Interestingly, Hillary Clinton is widely seen as more effective in small groups.)

* Collins suggests there is a quiet but real rivalry between the two couples -- both of whom may well see themselves as the first family of Democratic politics. "The competition between the two couples, and specifically between Michelle Obama and Bill Clinton, became explicit later when one of Michelle's advisers pulled me aside and pointed out that Michelle had recently been given Secret Service protection," writes Collins. "'So that's both spouses on both sides,' the aide pointed out."

By Chris Cillizza  |  April 8, 2008; 2:33 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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