Earlier today on "Morning Joe," MSNBC aired an interview Mika Brzezinski conducted with Michelle Obama, the wife of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.
Below is a transcript of the interview that aired this morning on "Morning Joe."
Mika Brzezinski, MSNBC Anchor: Michelle Obama, thank you so much. How did your husband do last night?
Michelle Obama: Oh, he was awesome. Yeah, he was wonderful. It was Barack in his essence. He was comfortable, confident, you know, the measure of how I think he does is how I feel. And I was moved. I listen very intently when he speaks because I always want to find out whether I believe it, you know, whether I feel that authenticity. And I do every single time he speaks, but there are just some times when he touches my heart in a way that makes me very clear about why we're doing this.
Brzezinski: He connects well in a crowd.
Obama: Yes, he does.
Brzezinski: He's able to really get the magic going. You have two daughters, Malia, she's nine?
Brzezinski: And Sacha?
Obama: Her proper name is Natasha.
Brzezinski: Oh, okay.
Obama: We call her Sacha.
Brzezinski:Alright, I have one of those as well.
Obama: You know how they can be.
Brzezinski: Yes I do. What do you tell your girls about what daddy is doing? I guess about why this is so important. Because it's got to be a lot of work for them.
Obama: Yes, we've tried not to let this campaign interfere with their lives. They're at the age where we don't talk about it a lot, we let the conversation happen. They don't have a lot of questions about it, I mean, they understand politics. Barack has had a political life ever since they were born, that's all they've known. So they're familiar, and they understand the election process, they understand what the president does, they understand the process, but they're nine and six, so they're mostly concerned about what they're going to be for Halloween, who's coming to their pot luck, you know, and we like that. We allow them to come in and out of the campaign as they choose. So, if they want to come somewhere, and they're free, they come. But usually they want to stay in their world, in their lives. They want to be with their friends, and we allow that to happen.
Brzezinski: You try to give them an element of choice.
Obama: Yeah, absolutely. So they don't feel like this process is taking over their lives. And they have said that they appreciate the fact that they have friends and teachers who could care less about this. My oldest daughter, actually, told her, "That's what I like about you, Miss Bikelson, you don't really care about this, and you treat me the same, no matter what."
Brzezinski:That's going to be important for them. Especially if things move on. I'd like to ask you about the status of your career at this point. Because you've cut back if I've read correctly, to 20 percent of your job.
Obama: Yeah, I mean, you know how work is for mothers. It's all very flexible. I carry a Blackberry from work, so I'm constantly on that, in communication with my assistants, my staff, and with today's technology you can do a lot over Blackberry. But we've set up things at the hospitals where I've got some senior staff that are taking over the day-to-day responsibility, but when there are emergencies, or important conversations, where they want me engaged, I go in. So, it's just been difficult. It's difficult when you've got a senior level position, and you're working on pretty major projects, just to walk away completely.
Brzezinski: Well, I was wondering about that. I'm wondering how you came across cutting back to 20 percent. And also, quite frankly, given the fact that this could be one of the most challenging times of your lives, for your family, why you wouldn't just take leave?
Obama:Yeah. Well, that's my sense of obligation. You know? I've invested a certain amount of time, I've got staff, I've got projects that are very important to me, and it's important to make sure that they're still on track. And, you know, there's a way to do it. You know, yeah, I'm not in there every day, but if somebody needs me, if they have a question, I'm certainly not gonna say, "don't ever call me again, we're running for president". So it turns out that, you know, I, you know, focus on it when needed. And again, I don't think that's very different from what a lot of women do. We are always juggling. I don't want to pretend like this isn't any different, but I have spent my entire adult life, as a professional, as a mother, juggling. Balancing so many different hats and personalities that I sorta add one more on there, it's like, okay, I can do that too.
Brzezinski: But is it also perhaps about your job, at this stage in your life, being a part of your identity?
Obama: You know, probably so. I don't spend too much time kind of analyzing it, because I tend to approach this stuff practically. You know, I mean, I wouldn't have trouble taking a complete leave, and at some point I'm gonna have to do that. And that doesn't give me cause for alarm, or it doesn't sort of attack my identity. It's just that right now, um, this is working. It's working for my staff, it works for me, it works for the family, and the minute that it doesn't, I'll make the changes that are necessary. We're sort of playing it by year. Um, and I'm also still doing day trips. I mean, I'm not out on the road for weeks at a time. That's something I've done primarily because that's important for my girls. So when I do campaigning - I mean, this weekend I've been away, because this was a weekend-long, this was a series of weekend overnight events. But usually, I get up in the morning, I get on a plane after getting the girls ready, do a series of events, and I go home, usually before the girls go to bed. And I'm usually not on the road for consecutive days, because for them it feels like Mom went to work, um, and I come home, we have our ritual, and that's why this process hasn't been disrupted for me. It requires some more effort on our parts, as adults, but I figure that's our job, you know, they didn't ask for this. So that allows me to keep a foot in work, too. Because when I'm in Chicago, and the kids are at school, I can get stuff done during my off time. Yeah. You just keep it going!
Brzezinski:It's a constant balance.
Obama: Constant balance.
Brzezinski: Your mother is a great deal of help to you.
Obama: Absolutely. Well, this wouldn't be possible without her. I mean, obviously, you know, I have relied on some form of help, you know, throughout my kids' lifetime. But, you know, there's nothing like your mom. I leave assured that there's somebody there that deeply loves my girls, and understands the values that we're trying to impart. So even if she lets them stay up a little bit later than I might, or might let them not finish their vegetables every night, you know, there's still a certain expectation of who she wants them to be, and, you know, she shares those beliefs with me and Barack, so I am confident that they're getting what they need and, you know, there's nothing like it.
Brzezinski: That's piece of mind.
Obama:Huge piece of mind.
Brzezinski: I want to hear about your father. Frasier. Who, I understand, died from complications of MS when you were 27. Did he get to meet your husband?
Obama: He did.
Brzezinski: Did he like him?
Obama: He did, that was very important. I mean, after the point at which I knew that Barack was somebody that I could marry, that's when I sort of led him into my life. And he met my brother, my mother and father, and it was important for me to know that he was someone that could fit into my broader family. So their opinions of him were extremely important, and my father respected Barack and liked him a great deal.
Brzezinski: And in terms of things that would be important to you as First Lady, your father worked a blue-collar job. He didn’t go to college.
Obama: Mmm hmm.
Brzezinski: Yet he was able to put two kids through Princeton, you through Harvard,
Obama: That’s right.
Brzezinski: And maintain a pension.
Obama: That’s right.
Brzezinski: That’s amazing.
Obama: That’s what I tend to say when I’m on the stump. I mean, that was, you know, 20, 30 years ago. And not that long ago. When families could have a shot at something, you know, important. It’s important that men like my father have the opportunity to take care of their families. You know, most Americans don’t want much more than that. And it’s just a shame that we live in a country where we can’t give every American that simple shot at life. You know, most families can’t survive off of a single, blue collar salary. College is unaffordable for even families who’ve saved, they’ve done everything that they’re supposed to do, kids are now looking at whether they should go to college, if they want to teach, are they going to come out with so much loan debt? This was the situation that Barack and I saw ourselves in. You know, even though we went to these great schools, by the time we got out, at the end of this wonderful education, our loan debt was more than our mortgage.
Obama: Our combined loan debt. And the only reason that we’re not in debt today is that Barack wrote two bestselling novels. I sort of joke with him that it was his financial plan – he’s like “I’m gonna write a book!” It’s like, “Oh, great, alrighty”, it’s like, “let’s put all our, you know, cards on red” But that paid off unexpectedly, and that’s why we’re not in debt right now. We would still be paying off our loans, and that is not a unique situation. So I find myself cautioning young people to really think about the financial burdens of going to law school and going to college. Because I don’t want people to come out on the other end you know, with this unexpected debt. And we shouldn’t put young people in that situation. In college, if you’re prepared, and you’re ready to go to school, and you’ve done what you’re supposed to do, every young person in this country should be able to go to college. And then if they choose not to go, they should be able to find a job where they’re gonna make a decent wage. And they’re gonna be able to raise a family, and make sure that their children’s lives are a bit better than their own. And that’s not the country we’re living in right now. And that’s why I so desperately want Barack Obama to be our president. Cause I know he’s somebody that gets it. Because we’re living it. You know, we’re still not so far away from these challenges. I’m still going to Target, buying Halloween costumes. I’m still standing on the soccer fields with moms, and hearing the complaints and challenges. We are just now at a point where we’re not worried about our financial future, and that’s not a guarantee. You know, we don’t know what life holds. Our financial futures aren’t secure – we still have to make sure that our girls can go to college. So sometimes, I worry that politicians have lost sight of that. You know, somehow, at some level, they don’t get these struggles. That it doesn’t mean as much to them because they don’t fight for it. And I know that Barack knows this deeply, and I know he’s gonna fight for it, because he knows that we’ve got to do better by regular folks.
Brzezinski: Speaking of knowing your husband, how involved are you when it comes to the issues? I guess I consider myself my husband’s editor, he’s a journalist. My mother definitely considers herself my father’s editor, and they will really duke it out over the issues. I mean, they don’t hold back in terms of giving each other their opinions. So given the fact that you’re educated and accomplished in your own right, surely you have opinions. How would you characterize your role in the marriage, in terms of advising on politics and policy?
Obama: You know, I think the best way to characterize it is that I’m a “big picture values” kind of person. When Barack and I talk, we talk about the problems that face people, we talk about struggles – we talk about these stories. Um, we talk about feelings. We talk about broad concepts of family values. You know, those are the things that – so, it’s more “big picture”. I don’t spend any time at all, because I don’t have the time, to sort of dig deep into his energy policy. Not my forte, I’m not an energy person, I’m, you know, not necessarily the one that has particularly interesting insight, but I do know values. I do know what I believe in. I do know what makes sense. I know common sense, and I know when things are not right or fair.
Brzezinski:So if something doesn’t make sense to you, would you tell him?
Obama: Absolutely absolutely as he would tell me we talk all the time about what makes sense, what would make sense in the lives of our own children and what would make sense for the children of this country. We talk about that all the time.
Brzezinski: So I'm just trying to think of an example where you might share your opinion with him. You've been hearing I'm sure as I have a lot of debate over whether Barack Obama has been too passive in taking on Hillary Clinton and it's definitely evolving on that even this morning on meet the press, so given the debate on whether he's been too passive when it comes to Hillary Clinton and this sort of open call you might have heard in the media building up to the debates or events to take her on and attack her, he's gotten a lot of unsolicited advice on this, what is Michelle's advice?
Obama: Yes, we talked about this, we definitely talked about this before we entered the race because our view is we're not doing this to win and you can't win at all costs and sometimes that's what politics has become and that's what the press is saying if you want to win you've got to kill her you know you've got to rip her apart, while you know if that's the only way you can win which we don't believe is that case, if that's all that politics is then we've digressed as a society to a point where that's the only way we can work out issue you know no wonder we're such a divided country and if Barack wants to be a different kind of leader then his approach to politics has to be different and we also talked about the fact that you know Barack is who he is and as a country we always wonder whether politics changes people and one of the things we've desperately tried to do is not to allow our political lives to change who we are fundamentally. But that's why I question our country I say you know on the one hand you want people to be authentic and true but then the question becomes what do you do when you get that when you're handed someone who's actually going to show you who they are. And that's not Barack's challenge, that's the nations challenge and I want to really test that, so I don't want Barack to be anyone other than who he is because if America doesn't accept that then I want America to own that. I want them to look themselves in the face and say you had a choice, you had a choice to choose someone who was decent, someone who was a uniter, someone who was going to be honest, who was going to tell you the truth, all these things you say you want, and then you get it and you trip, you freak out, and you question it and you worry, and is it true, and that's on us, that's not the candidates, that's not the polls that's not the press, that's there job there job is to make you scrappy that makes better news. But what does America believe, so we've been very clear on that I don't want barack to be anyone other than who he is because we certainly don't want to spend the next 4 or 8 years in the White House trying to live up to a persona that isn't true. What a hassle. I want to be able to be me and I want America to know that if they vote for barack that's who they get and I am who they get and either they want it or they don't, but I'm certainly not going to change and we're not going to change to just win. Because the point isn't winning it's changing, it's changing the country, its changing America, it's changing the way you live. It's throwing this game out, shaking it up and throwing it out the window, because it's not just playing it better than the people who played it before.
Brzezinski: So let's talk about changing the game a little bit. I'm interested in this issue of race that keep coming up and is now evolving and how you perceive how this conversation is going. The polls show your husband is trailing Hillary 46% to 37% in the African American community. What is going on?
Obama: First of all I think that that's not gonna hold. I'm completely confident. Black America will wake up and get it, but what we're dealing with in the black community is just the natural fear of possibility, ok and when I look at my life, you know the stuff that we see in these polls has played out my whole life and I've always been told by someone that I'm not ready that I can't do something, my scores weren't high enough, you know there's always that doubt in the back of the minds of people of color, people who have been oppressed, who have never been given the real opportunities that you never really believe, that you believe somehow that somehow someone is better than you, you know deep down inside you doubt that you can really do this cause that's all you've been told is no, wait, that's all you hear and you hear it from people who love you not because they don't care about you but because they're afraid. They're afraid something might happen to you.
Brzezinski: It's interesting you say that, excuse me, because the stewardess yesterday, a 52 year African American and I asked her are you interested in Barack Obama and would you vote for him and she said I don't think so because he probably can't win because he's black.
Obama: That's right, that the physiology that's going on in our souls and our heads and I understand it, I know where it's coming from you know and I think it's one of the horrible legacies of racism and discrimination and depression you know it keeps people down in their souls in a way where you know sometimes they can't move beyond it. But the truth of the matter is that that's something we're gonna have to get over as a community and you do it by forging ahead fearlessly. I would not be where I am, I wouldn't have gone to Princeton, I wouldn't have gone to Harvard I certainly wouldn't be a practicing attorney, neither would Barack if we listened to that doubt. You know, and there are a lot of kids who I know who aren't pushing themselves or going for what they know they can do because of that doubt. We have to move beyond it not just for Barack in this Presidency, but for the future of our community we’ve got to show people of color a different possibility. And I think that once they see what's possible then they own it, they believe it, I think that some black folks think that Barack won't win because the white people won't vote for Barack.
Brzezinski: There's probably a lot of different spins on this.
Obama: There are a lot of different spins. There’s a lot that's going on, it's very complicated, it's not easy.
Brzezinski: It's a huge psychological barrier to overcome.
Obama: It's a huge psychological barrier but I put part and truth. You know we approach politics in a lot of different ways. Barack has been told in every race that he's ever run that he shouldn't do it, he couldn't raise the money, that his name was too funny, his background too exotic, we've heard that, that's why this, this stuff now is like hey here we go again, but in every instance his view, our view, has been that if you tell people the truth you can connect with people right here and now. If you can break through the noise, then people recognize the truth, that honesty does win out. Now you can call that naive, but that's all we've got is the hope that the truth and honesty and authenticity will win out and I think that for the black community we have to shake off our fear because change doesn't happen without risk taking you know Rosa Parks wasn't supposed to stay on, sit on that bus, Martin Luther King wasn't supposed to speak out I mean we have a whole history of people who have taken risks far greater than anything that we're doing, this is nothing compared to the history we come from, so our view is we're doing exactly what we were told to do by our leaders by our elders that you get the best education you can get, that you work hard, that you bring that education back and that you give back and that you push, you push the next generation to be better, that's what we're doing, now people have to erace that and the one other thing that I think there is at play that people like Barack and I know is there is no magic to this stuff, it's like the first time when I set foot on Princeton, when I first got in I thought there's no way I can compete with these kids I mean I got in but I'm not supposed to be here, then I get there and I'm like is this all there is, you know, I mean I thought these kids had the answers, and the truth was that the toughest thing was getting there, the hardest part of Princeton was getting in, you know, so yeah I excel, I got lots of As and I graduated with departmental honors and I got into Harvard and then the more you achieve the more you realize that they don't know anymore than I do it's just that they believe in themselves in a way that's very different. That's why Barack and I are very confident in his ability to lead and his ability to know that people who have sense and are looking for good judgment will see beyond race, but there are a lot of people of color who've never had that, who have never been given the opportunity to sit at the table to say you're no smarter than me, you don't have the answers. That's what we want to show our community that you can do this too, this isn't magic it's common sense. It's heart, it's truth, it's doable you know that's the roof that I want to knock off in barack's presidency, that's why he's who we need right now, he's going to change perception among so many people, black, white, young, old, you know when I walk into a town hall meeting in Iowa and people look at me and they can connect to me, not because of my race, but because of my story, my values, the things that really bind us as American, that means more than when they here that from Hillary quite frankly because they assume they can connect with her you know what I say is that yes, you know how we're living and thinking in Chicago is no different, so don't let them keep dividing us up around issues that don't matter because we do believe in the same things, we want the same things we can work together on this stuff.
Brzezinski: Now it seems like you are almost, or you are speaking directly to the Black community here about this psychological barrier this fear of possibilities, you have Wall Street journal doing a front page article about whether or not a qualified African American can win the While House, to those who say Barack Obama cannot possibly win the election because he is black what do you say?
Obama: I say wait and see you know wait and see. Barack has been doing stuff he's not supposed to, I'm used to doing stuff that people told me I wasn't supposed to do that's my whole life. It's like ok here we go again you know telling me I can't do something before I even try. I mean, that's just not healthy. It's just not healthy. It's not healthy for people, it's not healthy for young people to hear those messages from anyone because it's not true. It's like me going into your house and telling your daughter who she's going to be today. You wouldn't allow that.
Brzezinski: And she wouldn't either.
Obama: And she wouldn't either, but fortunately she already has the self-assurance to know who she can be. Now you imagine millions of children who don't have that. They don't have parents who were affirming them you know they don't go to schools where teachers were affirming them. Everyday they hear what they can't be. The Wall Street polls don't even begin to touch on that. That's why I'm like give it up, stop it, because you can't start polling now, you've gotta start at the root cause of this. This stuff is deep and we haven't touched it as a nation. We don't deal with pain that has been caused by racism and division. We don't deal with it. And then we're surprised when it rears its head among whites and blacks. We haven't dealt with it and it's hurting all of us. It's hurting all of us. We can't afford to have generations of children of any race believing they can't be exactly who they think they should be.
Brzezinski: It's frustrating.
Obama: It is, I want us to be better. We need to be, we don’t' have a choice. You know when I talk to people and I tell them what world I want my girls to grow up in, it's not enough that they're ok, it's not enough that your girls are ok. We can't claim to be a nation that loves children and then allow these polls and make these statements about what people can do based on their race you know children aren't stupid, they know they're part of that and they're confused, they're deeply confused with what they know about themselves inside and then what they hear, we've got to stop that.
Brzezinski: Now we've got two more questions for you and then ... (clip cuts off)
Brzezinski: I’ve read that you said initially you were a little wary of your husband running. And that you might have even been a little skeptical about politics, is that fair?
Obama: Absolutely. More than fair. It’s true. It’s not fair, it’s true.
Brzezinski: And I think that at this point you must have considered not only your husband’s ability to do the job, as you had said, but your own. So what is it that you bring to the table, as opposed to the other potential first ladies out there?
Obama: You know, I think it’s who I am. I don’t think it’s so much, what I bring is different from what Barack brings. It’s truth. One thing that I hope people understand is that I will always be authentically me. That people won’t have to wonder what I feel, what I think, what I believe, I think that’s one of the reasons I’m supporting Barack. I think what we need is a politics of truth, and a politics of honesty, and a politics of real conversations among people and not dancing around issues. Because it just doesn’t get us anywhere. It does me no good to spend my time as first lady pretending to be something other than who I am. Let’s talk honestly about the challenges that we face. So that’s what I bring that’s unique from any other first lady – I mean, I don’t know them well enough to know, I can’t make that comparison, but I know that this is who I am.
Brzezinski: Is there a first lady you model yourself after?
Obama: You know, I don’t.
Brzezinski: Hillary Clinton? Laura Bush? Somewhere in the middle?
Obama: I’m neither. I think that, you know, everyone who assumes the role of first lady brings something very unique to it. And it changes over time, and it’s going to be affected by the situations of our time – of our generation. It impacts what the first lady’s role will be. So I don’t want to speculate because I don’t want to box myself in and say, “Well you said you were gonna do this and now you’re doing that”, you know how that works. I’m not doing that.
Brzezinski: So, finally in May 2008 when your husband wins and you're in the While House how do you think life for the American Family will be different?
Obama: I think that there will be more balance, you know, I think we’re gonna sort of tip the scales of balance in favor of most Americans. I believe we'll have universal health care, I believe that we'll have more of a chance of people’s wages keeping up with the cost of living, I think we're going to have a presidency that is serious about global warming, that is going to begin to talk openly about the challenges we face, I still think we'll be a nation that is facing crisis overseas because these are difficult times and I don't think that that will change easily that will always be something that we'll worry about, but I think that it will not consume us to the point that we don't deal with domestic issues that will kill us as a country, you know we've gotta take some of the stress off of people, so that people are freed up to think clearly about some of the challenges in the world because you know when people are worried about heat and gas and college they can't think clearly about immigration or race or gay and lesbian issue or our role in the war because people are afraid and they're panicked and they're subject to being manipulated by those who want to go a certain way so I think when our country feels stable and whole again then hopefully we can talk honestly about what we really need to do to fix some of these broader issues.
Brzezinski: So for all that to happen, does he have to win Iowa?
Obama: Um, he has to do well in Iowa, we want to win everything. Right. You know you don't go into this stuff to come in second, you want to win everything, at least that's my motto, but you know we have the money to finish this race to the very end, we will be in this to the very end, that's why we love our broad base of supporters, our ability to raise 2 to 3 million dollars in the span of 72 hours speaks to our staying power and we will be in this through Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina the Feb 5th states we will be in this to the very end, but we want to win Iowa, we want to do well in Iowa and we need a great weekend to get us on this path.