There's an interesting WaPo piece on Michelle Obama's struggle to carve out a satisfyingly substantive role for herself that immediately brought to mind Hillary Clinton. Lois Romano's piece today begins:
For weeks, Michelle Obama had been telling her staff and closest confidantes that she wasn't having the impact she wanted. She is a woman of substance, with a background in law, public policy and management, who found herself relegated to role model in chief. The West Wing of the White House -- the fulcrum of power and policy -- had not fully integrated her into its agenda. She wanted more.
A few grafs down, this bit:
Although Obama's job-approval ratings have soared, the first lady -- a Harvard-educated lawyer -- wasn't satisfied with coasting. She is hiring a full-time speechwriter and has instructed her staff to think "strategically" so that every event has a purpose and a message. She doesn't want to simply go to events and hug struggling military families, she said; she wants to show progress. "Her desire is to step out more and have deliverables," said communications chief Camille Johnston. "It's about things that are coming up that we want to be a part of: child nutrition reauthorization act, prevention and wellness for health-care reform."
Now consider what one Hillarylander recalled to me a couple of years ago of Clinton's time as First Lady:
[We] used to have this fight with her all the time in the White House. We'd say, 'You're not using the symbolic power of your office enough. Get out there and inspire people!' She'd say, 'I don't want to just inspire. I want to see results.' She was results driven. ...For her, systemic change was essential. She couldn't just be jumping up on a soap box....She was resistant to the idea of just being inspirational.
How funny--ok, sad, really--that more than 15 years after Hillary sought to retool the eternally fraught role of First Lady, Michelle Obama is struggling with the same core issue. One can only hope that Obama will suffer less frustration, heartache, and public villification in her quest than did her predecessor.
At the very least, she should keep Hillary's home number handy in case she needs an empathetic ear.