Former President Barack Obama had impeccable timing with the launch of his latest memoir, A Promised Land. Released just weeks after the 2020 election—and about a month before the winter holidays—he ensured that people around the world were going to be paying attention to his 768-page account of his first few years in the White House.
In the book, Barack details his political ascent and takes readers behind the scenes of some of his most famous moments in office, from being sworn in as the first Black president in American history to the passage of the Affordable Care Act. But he also gets personal, talking about the toll his career took on his relationship with former FLOTUS Michelle Obama, something she wrote about in her own memoir, Becoming.
“To Michelle—my love and life’s partner,” reads part of the dedication in A Promised Land. Below, what Barack wrote about Michelle in his book, and what he’s said since it’s been released.
“She constantly challenged me and kept me honest.”
As Vogue reports, Barack describes first meeting Michelle at a Chicago law firm, writing: “She was tall, beautiful, funny, outgoing, generous, and wickedly smart—and I was smitten almost from the second I saw her.” He called her, “an original; I knew nobody quite like her.”
He writes, “in those early years of our courtship, our arguments could be fierce. As cocksure as I could be, she never gave ground,” and describes how Michelle’s older brother, Craig, teased that she’d never get married because “she was too tough—no guy could keep up with her. The weird thing was, I liked that about her; how she constantly challenged me and kept me honest.”
“You shouldn’t even count on my vote.”
He describes how his political career put a strain on their marriage years before he went to Washington D.C. While he was a state senator in Illinois, he writes the two “began arguing more, usually late at night when the two of us were thoroughly drained.” At the time, Barack was traveling between Chicago and the state capital, while Michelle was still working and looking after their baby daughter, Malia. Then, when he ran for the U.S. Senate in 2004, Barack remembers Michelle saying, “This is it, Barack. One last time. But don’t expect me to do any campaigning. In fact, you shouldn’t even count on my vote.”
But shortly after winning a place in the Senate, Barack began to explore a presidential run and approached Michelle to let her know there was a team looking into “whether we could win.” Vogue reports that Michelle quickly cut him off. He writes: “‘Did you say we?’ she said. ‘You mean you, Barack… This is your thing. I’ve supported you the whole time, because I believe in you, even though I hate politics. I hate the way it exposes our family. Now, finally, we have some stability…and now you tell me you’re going to run for president?'” He said he’d only consider running if she was okay with it. “‘If that’s really true, then the answer is no,’ she shot back. ‘God, Barack…when is it going to be enough?'”
Eventually, Michelle came around. Barack writes that he told his wife: “I know that the day I raise my right hand and take the oath to be president of the United States, the world will start looking at America differently. I know that kids all around this country—Black kids, Hispanic kids, kids who don’t fit in—they’ll see themselves differently, too…and that alone…that would be worth it.” She replied, “Well, honey…that was a pretty good answer.”
“The fact that she put up with it and forgave me was an act of grace that I am grateful for…”
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In an interview with 60 Minutes, Barack was asked about this particular section of the book and why he decided to continue on with his political aspirations, even when Michelle was so vocally opposed. “Over time, she made a conclusion: ‘I shouldn’t stand in the way of this,'” he said. “She did so grudgingly, and the fact that I ended up winning didn’t necessarily alleviate her frustrations because the toll it takes on families is real.” He continued, “The fact that she put up with it and forgave me was an act of grace that I am grateful for, and I’m not sure I deserved it.”
“I’d think about those days when everything between us felt lighter…”
As for their time in the White House, CNN reports that Barack writes: “And yet, despite Michelle’s success and popularity, I continued to sense an undercurrent of tension in her, subtle but constant, like the faint thrum of a hidden machine.” He continues, “It was as if, confined as we were within the walls of the White House, all her previous sources of frustration became more concentrated, more vivid, whether it was my round the clock absorption with work, or the way politics exposed our family to scrutiny and attacks, or the tendency of even friends and family members to treat her role as secondary in importance.”
He writes that some nights, “lying next to Michelle in the dark, I’d think about those days when everything between us felt lighter, when her smile was more constant and our love less encumbered, and my heart would suddenly tighten at the thought that those days might not return.” He continues, “It makes me wonder now, whether in my seeming calm as crises piled up, my insistence that everything would work out in the end, I was really just protecting myself—and contributing to her loneliness.”
“The thing that I think we were good about was talking stuff through, never losing fundamental love and respect for each other.”
During a recent interview with Oprah Winfrey about the book, Barack said he and Michelle “went through our rough patches in the White House.” He added, “But I tell you that the thing that I think we were good about was talking stuff through, never losing fundamental love and respect for each other, and prioritizing our kids.”
“I think a lot of couples understand and have experienced when you’ve got external stress and pressure that in some ways can simultaneously bring you closer together in a marriage, but it can also put strains on the marriage, and our marriage was no different,” he told Oprah. “The fact is that I had to work a lot. I didn’t have a day off. Even when we’re on vacation, I’m still getting that presidential daily briefing. We can’t do anything spontaneous. If I want to take Michelle out on a date, it involves potentially a week worth of planning, and you still have the press corps in a van right outside the restaurant. There’s very little privacy. You have people basically in your house at all times. Michelle, herself, was under constant scrutiny.”
“…replenished our friendship, rediscovered our love…”
But in the month after he and Michelle finally left the White House, he writes they “slept late, ate leisurely dinners, went for long walks, swam in the ocean, took stock, replenished our friendship, rediscovered our love, and planned for a less eventful but hopefully no less satisfying second act.”
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