Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Obamas: Keeping It Real

If self-possession is a requirement for a successful presidency, Michelle and Barack Obama showed it in abundance on 60 Minutes tonight.

In half a century of watching White House occupants publicly and privately, I have never seen a couple as comfortable with themselves and each other as these two people who had to overcome extraordinary barriers to get there.

Obama, who avoided talking about race after his Philadelphia speech, acknowledged on Election Night "emotion that I could see in people's faces and in my mother-in-law's face...Michelle's mom, who grew up on the west and south sides of Chicago, who worked so hard to help Michelle get to where she is, her brother to be successful. She was sitting next to me, actually, as we were watching returns...

"And suddenly she just kind of reached out and she started holding my hand, you know, kind of squeezing it. And you had this sense of, 'Well, what's she thinking?' For a black woman who grew up in the 50s, you know, in a segregated Chicago, to watch her daughter become first lady of the United States. I think there was that sense across the country. And not unique to African-Americans."

When their journey started, Obama told Tim Russert with a nervous smile that his wife and friends thought he was still there behind all the hype and hoopla. Almost two years later, he still seems to be himself after all the exposure and pressure to become the fictional character that presidential aspirants usually morph into.

From the evidence of their interplay tonight, his staying grounded has much to do with the woman at his side, who teased him about the car he drove with a hole in the floorboard when they first met and his Washington apartment ("a dump") that she refused to sleep in during his Senate days.

Talking about what he will face as president in dealing with a sick economy, the President-to-be projected a no-nonsense approach that would be seamless with the kind of personal life he has led and will, if Michelle Obama has anything to say about it, continue to lead in the White House.

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