ELECTION 2008 EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW
BY SUZETTE HACKNEY • FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER • July 10, 2008
"To me, the policies that go along with supporting working mothers and families aren't just politics," she said. "These are personal."
In an exclusive interview with the Free Press on Wednesday, the wife of presumptive presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., said that if she becomes first lady, she will champion policies that will focus on balancing work and family life, help military spouses and promote national service programs such as AmeriCorps.
Obama, a Harvard Law School-educated attorney, made her first campaign swing through Michigan on Wednesday, hosting a chat with 200 people at the Crofoot, a Pontiac concert venue. She listened as women shared stories of unemployment, health scares and child care difficulties.
Alicia Wilkerson, 45, a Pontiac resident, called Obama a "forceful, strong, caring, loving and intelligent woman." Wilkerson, a 50th District Court reporter, heralded her approach to real-life issues.
"She is exactly the kind of woman who needs to be the first lady," said Wilkerson. "She has worked in the corporate world and is familiar with people who have suffered. She is compassionate even though she has been Ivy League educated. She is a real person."
In the interview with the Free Press, Obama, 45, said the campaign has been so encompassing, it's been difficult for her to step back and appraise the history she and her husband will make if they became the nation's first black family in the White House.
"The whole reason we're doing it isn't to be 'The First' -- it's to create change," she said.
"It's going to be a while before change happens. Even when Barack is president of the United States, it's going to take some time and investment before we see the results of a different strategy.
"When we start seeing more people with access to health care, and when we see the results of an investment in new kinds of economies and we see the results of higher investments in public education, that's when I think we'll start getting excited."
Obama described the difficulties of balancing campaigning and parenthood. She said she has often felt guilty about leaving her children, Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7, but she gets help from her mother.
She acknowledged that she has the support system and resources in place to give her children a balanced life, a fact that drives her to help those less fortunate, particularly military spouses. She said her travels around the country have highlighted their struggles.
"It's heartbreaking to sit in a room of mostly wives ... with small babies who are proud, and proud to have their spouses serving, but finding that they have no more resources than the average family -- in fact they have fewer," she said.
"A lot of these women are young, they can't finish their educations because they're always moving. The child care subsidies that they have aren't enough. ... Husbands are deployed multiple tours of duty and are coming back without mental health support."
Obama has received her share of criticism during the campaign. After saying that, "for the first time in my adult lifetime, I'm really proud of my country" when the campaign picked up steam, she was accused of being unpatriotic.
Still, she said, she has met some "really nice" people.
"People have been warm and welcoming whether they've supported Barack or not," she said. "That gives me hope that we are primed to be able to have a conversation in this country. Even if we disagree, we can still listen to each other and try to figure this stuff out."
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