She celebrated her 45th birthday in a vintage train car, amid balloons and crepe-paper streamers, and cheering crowds serenaded her by name.She danced in front of the Lincoln Memorial to Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground” with her husband and daughters clapping by her side. She assembled care packages for soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, and, in this long, whirlwind weekend, marveled that she would soon be the public face of America’s first family.
On Inauguration Day, Michelle Obama will become the first African-American to assume the role of first lady, a woman with the power to influence the nation’s sense of identity, its fashion trends, its charitable causes and its perceptions of black women and their families. Already, the outlines of her style and public agenda have begun to emerge.
She has hired a politically seasoned team of advisers and an interior decorator committed to creating a family-friendly feel in her elegant new home. She has sketched out a vision of a White House brimming with children and ordinary Americans while suggesting she may delegate some traditional first lady duties to her staff: food tastings, china selection and the like.
She has decided to shape her public program with the help of a policy director who has raised concerns about instances of systemic employment bias against minorities and called for tougher enforcement of antidiscrimination laws, contentious issues in the workplace.
And she has highlighted the warm, informal tone that she hopes will characterize her time in the executive mansion by signing e-mail messages to supporters simply as “Michelle.”
Mrs. Obama, a Harvard-educated lawyer and a former hospital executive, has made it clear that her two young daughters will be her biggest priority. The causes she has promised to promote – expanding volunteerism and supporting military families and working parents – fall squarely into the realm of platforms traditionally championed by first ladies. But the staff she has assembled is also clearly prepared to tackle a tougher issues-oriented program.
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