Video: Candidates’ wives talk about their lives

updated 10/26/2007 12:51:38 PM ET 2007-10-26T16:51:38

National Journal's Linda Douglass spoke with Michelle Obama, the wife of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, in a pre-recorded interview for the fifth edition of "National Journal On Air." This is a transcript of their conversation.

Q: So first, I want to welcome you and thank you very much for joining us here on 'National Journal On Air,' Mrs. Obama.

Michelle Obama: Hi. How are you? It's good to be here.

Q: Very good, very good. So you have been talking this week a lot about your family, about your role as a political wife and mother and all of the complexities that involves. How has this campaign been for your children? Is it a good experience for them or a troubling one?

Obama: Overall, it's been a good experience for them. We're blessed in a number of ways. I think our kids are at an age -- they are 9 and 6 -- where, you know, the broader impact of this on a daily basis is just minor. At that age they're really focused on their school, their work, their activities. So they can peer out of their worlds every now and then and get a glimpse into this experience, and often times when they do it's just full of fun.

You know, they get on the road, and they're at some fair and they get ice cream and they meet new friends... for them, it's one big party. So they have been very good at keeping us grounded and focused. Because, you know, kids at that age really remind you every day what's really important, what is at stake. They keep us really clear. So it's been good.

Q: You do seem like a woman who likes to say what she thinks. How has it been for you to have to watch what you say on the campaign trail?

Obama: You know, I have tried not to let this campaign change who I am, fundamentally. I really try to stay very true to who I am. First and foremost, it's the easiest thing for me to remember. You know, if I am authentically me, then I don't have to worry about contradicting myself because I'm telling the truth. And I also hope that people can really feel authenticity and honesty. I'm hoping that if I give people truth and openness, if I offer that, then people will receive that in the way that it's intended and my experience on the campaign trail is that people are pleasantly surprised to be able to have a real conversation with someone.

So I've tried not to hold back. I just want to make sure that people understand who we are, they understand who Barack and Michelle Obama are as people, and that that's going to be sufficient for most voters.

Q: And you do talk about him as a person and about your lives together to bring the human dimension into your characterization of him. But you are a professional in your own right -- a Harvard-trained lawyer. Do you give him policy advice?

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Obama: You know, this is such a whirlwind of an experience that truthfully, when we see each other, we're talking about our kids. We're talking about, you know, our own relationship and the stuff that we've missed for the week that I haven't seen him. But we do talk -- as any couple do -- we talk about the things we care about, we talk about events in the world, we've always done that. He knows every opinion that I hold.

There are times when he'll call and ask me what I think on a given issue, but do I consider myself a chief policy adviser? No. Actually, I don't, because I've got so much of my own stuff going on, the last thing I have time to do is sit in a set of meetings when we've brought on some of the best experts in the field. You know, so my thing is great: Do your job, get it done, and then I can do the things that I have time to do, take care of my kids, be on the road, make sure that I'm in health, that our house isn't falling apart. And I'm still working at my job as well, just in a very reduced schedule. But I'm talking to my staff and meeting with my colleagues as much as I can. So I've got more than enough on my plate without taking on more of what he's doing.

Q: I can only imagine. Well, as you know, of course the core of Hillary Clinton's support is women. Couple questions on that front: No. 1, why do you think that is? And No. 2, why do you think that women should be choosing your husband over her?

Obama: My hope is that this time around, the American people will pick the person who will offer us the best type of leadership that we need right now, and the truth of the matter is that while I think that policies and plans and positions are important -- Barack has said this before -- that's not what's ailing us as a nation. We know the answers to a lot of the problems that we face. But what we haven't been able to do is come together as a nation and really see ourselves and one another in a way that will give us the strength to push through some of the political blocks that keep us from getting to these answers.

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We need leadership that's going to inspire us to be a different kind of nation. We need someone who is going to challenge us to really think deeply about who we want to be, what kind of country do we want to be? What does it mean to say that we care about children in this country if we aren't going to push to ensure that every child has access to a quality public education and that every family has access to affordable and quality health care. This is about who we are as a nation and right now, Barack is that leader. Barack is that person who is going to be able to unite the country in a way that I don't think that anybody else in this race is going to be able to do, and that's going to result in huge benefits to women and families. That's what I hope that women are looking for. Not just whose turn it is or what's next, but who do we need right now.

Q: You could understand, probably, as a woman, that little twinge of pride that some women say they're feeling when they see Hillary Clinton. Do you think that's justified?

Obama: Obviously, just as it's true among African Americans and young people who look at Barack and feel the same thing. But that's not enough. You know I would say this too, I would tell black folks, don't vote for Barack just because he's African American. I mean, we need to dig deeper than that. This isn't just, 'who is next, whose turn is it.' That's the only thing I don't like about it, because politics shouldn't be about whose turn it is, or who should have this because they've waited or they've spent time or we haven't seen this.

I mean, the problems that we're facing as a country are just too serious for us not to really think deeply about what we need in terms of leadership. We didn't do that when we elected the last president. We weren't thinking deeply about a vision for the country and, you know, what the presidency would mean around the world, what kind of messages it would send. We really need to do that now, because we don't have time to waste.

You know, when I think about four years and what that means in the life of a young person -- we've got kids who have spent their entire college careers with the nation at war. That's all they've known, so four years in the life of young people is important, which means that we've got to get this right and we have to think deeply about who we want to be as a country and what leadership will reflect that.

Q: You know some of your husband's supporters and certainly many of the pundits are saying that he must start drawing sharper contrasts between himself and Sen. Clinton. What's your advice on that?

Obama: I agree. I mean, I want people to really understand the choices that are there. Because it's easy to blur the lines, it's easy for example -- you know, people adopt this notion that Barack, he's just not experienced. Well, that's so not true. What Barack doesn't have are years in Washington, but he's been in elected public office longer than any of the front-runners. He's had, you know, experiences like living abroad and working in communities that other candidates haven't had. He has 25 years of experience in public and community service in ways that the other candidates have not, yet sometimes we fall into that mindset of throwing that experience question out there as if it has some meaning. So I think we're going to have to make sure that people understand that sometimes politics is a game, and sometimes people will distort the truth, and we have to be clear that not every candidate can claim to be the change candidate just because they say they're the change candidate.

Q: Is he more of a change candidate than she is and, if so, why?

Obama: Well, he hasn't built his career on the conventions of Washington. I mean, you can't have it both ways. You can't say 'I'm experienced in the ways in Washington, but I'm going to be the change candidate.' You know, you just can't have it both ways. So it's important for the American people to understand choices, votes, actions, we need to look at what people say and do and how that has affected some of the directions that we've taken as a country.

The war that we're in is a huge case in point. Right now, the war is dominating every major-- all the focus of our political process right now, it's taking up every resource that we've had, and it's keeping us from focusing on domestic issues like health care and education. But when you look at the choices that the candidates in the race made, you've got some clear choices. You've got a number of the candidates who went with conventional wisdom, and in the face of the evidence that was before them, they took the easy route, they voted for what felt like a popular war.

Barack, on the other hand, did not, and he did it at a time when it was very risky for him in the midst of a highly contested U.S. Senate primary, to stand up and tell the truth about what he saw and what he felt would be a disastrous consequence. You know, those are real choices, and there are a lot of Americans who might not realize that there are major choices like that.

And, you know, Barack's opponents are certainly not going to bring up those choices, so it's really incumbent upon him to make sure that the American people know how people make decisions, how those decisions impact the nation. So I am glad he's taking that approach because I want people to know what they have before them, what their choices are in this election.

Q: Just a couple more quick ones, because I know we're almost out of time. Do you think that there is, as some critics say, 'Clinton Fatigue?'

Obama: You know, that I can't comment on, because you know we're going to see how that plays out in this next election. But there are choices in this race. You've got people who are going to offer something fundamentally different to the process, so obviously we have a bit of fatigue or else we wouldn't be running.

Q: Well, thank you very much, Mrs. Obama. We really appreciate your spending time with us.

Obama: Thank you so much. It was great to talk to you.

Copyright 2012 by National Journal Group Inc.


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