Two terms later, the first lady known for her wit, style and tact has emerged as a political force, and on Monday she electrified the Democratic National Convention with an impassioned endorsement for Hillary Clinton that brought the crowd to its feet.
With a determined look and a big smile, the current first lady lauded the former first lady, making the link between the woman who would be America’s first female president and her hopes for her two teenage daughters, Sasha and Malia.
“The hateful language they hear from public figures on TV does not represent the true spirit of this country,” Obama said, in a thinly veiled swipe at Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, who will battle Clinton at the polls on November 8.
“We know that our words and actions matter not just to our girls, but to children across this country,” said the 52-year-old Obama, a Harvard-educated lawyer. “This election, and every election, is about who will have the power to shape our children for the next four or eight years of their lives,” she said.
“There is only one person who I trust with that responsibility, only one person who I believe is truly qualified to be president of the United States, and that is our friend, Hillary Clinton,” she said, before outlining the qualities of her husband’s 2008 primary rival.
“Hillary Clinton has never quit on anything in her life.”
Preserving a legacy
Armed with popularity ratings above 60 percent, Michelle Obama knows how to captivate an audience: at the 2008 convention in Denver, Colorado, she stepped into the national spotlight with remarks that stressed her husband Barack’s commitment to American values.
“I have seen firsthand that being president doesn’t change who you are –- it reveals who you are,” she said.
In stumping for Clinton, Michelle has set aside any gripes left over from the tense 2008 campaign that saw her husband and this year’s Democratic nominee exchange barbs.
“Because of Hillary Clinton, my daughters — and all our sons and daughters — now take for granted that a woman can be president of the United States,” she said Monday night to the packed arena in Philadelphia.
Incredible speech by an incredible woman. Couldn’t be more proud & our country has been blessed to have her as FLOTUS. I love you, Michelle.
— President Obama (@POTUS) July 26, 2016
The Obamas know that a Clinton administration is the best way to preserve the president’s accomplishments, including health care reform, the Iran nuclear deal and renewed relations with Cuba, said Peter Slevin, a Northwestern University professor who wrote the first lady’s biography.
“Michelle Obama understands the political moment, recognizes the importance to her husband’s legacy,” Slevin said.
No political aspirations
Her reputation as a political superstar has fueled rumors that Michelle might have her own presidential ambitions. But she has no plans to follow the lead of Clinton, also a former first lady who later become secretary of state.
“Running for political office is not Michelle Obama’s thing,” Slevin said.
“Though she has proven to be very good at delivering political messages, at pushing policies that are important to the administration, I think she just could not bear the idea of running for office and raising money and doing all the things you have to do if you are in office.”
The first lady told a group of children in April that a White House bid was not in the cards. “Hillary Clinton is an impressive woman. I will not do what she has done — I will not run for president,” she said. “But there are other things that I want to do to stay involved in working in public service.”
Her husband Barack has also tried to cut through the speculation that the Obamas might try to keep living at the White House. “There are three things that are certain in life: Death, taxes and Michelle is not running for president,” he said earlier this year.