Chronicling the President's Better Half

A new book by New York Times reporter Jodi Kantor portrays Michelle Obama as a conflicted, and at times, iron-fisted First Lady. The press has long depicted the spouse of the President as loved and loathed, feared and revered. A paint-by-numbers guide to profiling the President’s wife.

The Captive

“I think I am more like a state prisoner than anything else …”
— Martha Washington, confiding to a niece
“[Jacqueline Kennedy] was a quintessentially private person, poised and glamorous, but shy and aloof.”
New York Times, 1994
“[Barbara Bush] has had to adjust to … the more structured aspects of her new life.”
Washington Post, 1989
“Mrs. Clinton is not the first president’s wife to find the White House stifling …”
New York Times, 1999
“[Laura] Bush has chafed at the confining nature of the first lady’s role …”
New York Times, 2007
“The confinement of the White House was also a shock [to Michelle Obama] …”
New York Times excerpt of The Obamas, 2012

The Consigliere

There were “many known incidents in which [Eleanor] Roosevelt was able to direct the President’s attention to … injustices …”
New York Times, 1962
“[Nancy Reagan] didn’t just rely on pillow talk. When she had a pet project, or she wanted someone fired, she would build a coalition to independently promote her position.”
Washington Post, 1995
“[Gerald and Betty Ford's] views on major issues often are at variance, and she does not hesitate to speak her mind.”
U.S. News & World Report, 1976
Hillary Clinton is “watching his back, stiffening his spine, advocating their politics and defending their record.”
New York Times, 1999
“[Michelle Obama] was sometimes harder on her husband’s team than he was, eventually urging to replace them …”
New York Times excerpt of The Obamas, 2012

The Adoring Wife

“[Pat Nixon] mastered the art of sitting next to [Richard] on the podium and hearing him give, for the umpteenth time, the same speech, while still managing to look adoring, as if she had never heard [it].”
Houston Chronicle excerpt of The Fifties, 1993
“… evident are the fiery determination in [Rosalynn Carter's] eyes, the boundless optimism in her voice … the great love and respect she holds for her husband …”
New York Times, 1980
“[Laura Bush's] public persona remains that of supportive wife, the steadying influence who got her husband to quit drinking at age 40 …”
New York Times, 2007
“She cherished the idea of her husband as a transformational figure …”
New York Times excerpt of The Obamas, 2012

The Dutiful Campaigner

“[Mamie Eisenhower's] reluctance to appear in the limelight was a matter of principle and was not because, once there, she might have done badly.”
Life, 1952
“[Lady Bird Johnson] undertook a courageous whistle-stop tour of the South, where [her husband's] civil rights agenda was widely reviled.”
Los Angeles Times, 2007
“Like the trouper she has been for the 30 years George Bush has been in politics, [Barbara] Bush goes where sent, emphasizing party …”
Washington Post, 1990
“On the campaign trail …Hillary Rodham Clinton looks … like … a one-woman assault team, arriving by land, air and over frozen water …”
Boston Globe, 1992
“Mrs. Obama has [a] campaigner’s gift for pleasing audiences …”
Washington Post, 2009

The Fashion Plate

“[Rosalynn Carter] is immaculately groomed, her honey-colored hair set just so, her clothes unwrinkled, her makeup unmussed.”
New York Times, 1980
“Nancy Reagan dresses like a doll.”
New York Times, 1981
“The pearls, the jewelry, the color scheme, it’s all perfect. [Barbara Bush's] hair is brilliant—a whiter shade of gray, luminous, gleaming, a permanently attached spotlight.”
Washington Post, 1992
“The ‘reborn’ Hillary Clinton [is] … a policy diva in a baby-blue tailored suit and a frosted-blond pageboy.”
New York Times, 1997
“[Laura Bush's] gray pinstriped pantsuit is soft and perfectly put together, and so is she.”
New York Times, 2005
“[Obama] is not the first to pose with bare arms in her official White House portrait.”
— ABC, 2010

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