Thursday, January 29, 2009

Early Obama Interview

The second-to-last issue of the New Yorker had a really interesting piece in it on the Obamas. In 1996, a New Yorker columnist visited Barack and Michelle in Hyde Park, where they were living, and interviewed them as a part of a photography project on couples in America.

It's really interesting to see how these two commented on one another and their lives way before they were in the spotlight. They seem like real people, and you can detect that even from early interviews.

Below are excerpts from the interview:

MICHELLE OBAMA: There is a strong possibility that Barack will pursue a political career, although it's unclear. There is a little tension with that. I'm vary wary of politics. I think he's too much of a good guy for the kind of brutality, the kind of skepticism.

When you are involved in politics, your life is an open book, and people can come in who don't necessarily have good intent. I'm pretty private, and I like to surround myself with people that I trust and love. In politics you've got to open up yourself to a lot of different people. There is a possibility that our futures will go that way, even though I want to have kids and travel, spend time with family, and like spending time with friends. But we are going to be busy people doing lots of stuff. And it'll be interesting to see what life has to offer. In many ways, we are here for the ride, just seeing what opportunities open themselves up. And the more you experiment the easier it is to do different things. If I had stayed in a law firm and made partner, my life would be completely different. I wouldn't know the people I know, and I would be more risk-averse. Barack has helped me loosen up and feel comfortable with taking risks, not doing things the traditional way and sort of testing it out, because that is how he grew up. I'm more traditional; he's the one in the couple that, I think, is the less traditional individual. You can probably tell from the photographs--he's just more out there, more flamboyant. I'm more, like, "Well, let's wait and see. What did that look like? How much does it weigh?"

BARACK OBAMA: All my life, I have been stitching together a family, through stories of memories of friends or ideas. Michelle has had a very different background--very stable, two-parent family, mother at home, brother and a dog, living in the same house all their lives. We represent two strands of family life in this country--the strand that is very stable and solid, and then the strand that is breaking out of the constraints of traditional families, travelling, separated, mobile. I think there was that strand in me of imagining what it would be like to have a stable, solid, secure family life.

Michelle is a tremendously strong person, and has a very strong sense of herself and who she is and where she comes from. But I also think in her eyes you can see a trace of vulnerability that most people don't know, because when she's walking through the world she is this tall, beautiful, confident woman. There is a part of her that is vulnerable and young and sometimes frightened, and I think seeing both of those things is what attracted me to her. And then what sustains our relationship is I'm extremely happy with her, and part of it has to do with the fact that she is at once completely familiar to me, so that I can be myself and she knows me very well and I trust her completely, but at the same time she is also a complete mystery to me in some ways. And there are times when we are lying in bed and I look over and sort of have a start. Because I realize here is this other person who is separate and different and has different memories and backgrounds and thoughts and feelings. It's that tension between familiarity and mystery that makes for something strong, because, even as you build a life of trust and comfort and mutual support, you retain some sense of surprise or wonder about the other person.

You can see how genuine these two are, and how well they truly get along. They seem very happy together and are very comfortable with one another.

I really enjoyed when Barack was talking about how each of them represents different families in America, stable and unstable. That's a great mix to be running the country. They understand so many sides of American life, not just the elite side, so they are more realistic and fair. I like that they aren't the traditional couple and the traditional presidential family, but there's something that is genuine and loving with them. It's true. It's real. It's strong.

I wish I could have seen some of the other pictures from their Chicago apartment. What a life they've had so far. I wonder what they would have thought if they knew where they would be within 15 years from that point. He really has achieved a lot since this 1996 interview. Good for him. He deserves it.

So, what do you think of this 1996 interview?

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