Jodi Kantor, the author of “The Obamas,” an insider account of the Obama family, visited U. Virginia yesterday evening to discuss her best-selling book.
Kantor, a reporter for The New York Times, spent five years working on the book, which focuses particularly on the first lady.
“The narrative that runs through the heart of this book is the story of [Mrs. Obama’s] turnaround,” Kantor said. “[In] scene after scene, and anecdote after anecdote, you see her forge her own path and define the role of the first lady.”
Kantor hopes the book will provide insight into how change can be accomplished through the political system and how the political system can, in turn, change those within it..
The book has sparked considerable political controversy since its Jan. 10 release, Kantor said.
The first lady spoke out against Kantor’s portrayal in a Jan. 11 interview on “CBS This Morning.” Kantor told the Miller Center audience she found Mrs. Obama’s response “strange” because the first lady said she had not read the book. Kantor said Mrs. Obama’s response was because of her negative perceptions of the way media in general depicts the first lady, not necessarily, her portrayal in “The Obamas.”
“[Mrs. Obama] wasn’t sure it was the best thing for her family, but believed in the potential for his presidency,” Kantor said. “As far as whether she’s come to terms with [the lifestyle] — all of my reporting has indicated that she has.”
Kantor also discussed the evolution of the Obama partnership in light of the mounting pressure of the presidency. The public glamorizes the Obamas’ lives in the White House, but their lives are restricted by media attention. These restrictions are “emblematic of the presidency’s strange combination of power and powerlessness,” Kantor said.
The working relationship between the Obamas could see marked change as the 2012 election period continues.
“As you will see on almost a daily basis, Michelle Obama is playing a much more important role in her husband’s political message,” Kantor said. “The question is to what extent is [she] saving him politically, and to what extent does that reflect a private change in their partnership as well?”
Barbara Perry, a senior fellow and associate professor in the Miller Center’s Presidential Oral History Program, said Kantor’s book may draw more supporters to the president in 2012. “I think that because this book is the first of this kind on the Obamas in the White House, it will have an impact on the people’s vision of the first couple,” she said.