My valentine to Barack and Michelle Obama has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with admiration for them as a couple. Since I’m not very politicized, I’ll leave commentary on issues both foreign and domestic to the political pundits — with one caveat. There is a domestic issue I would like to comment on: their roles as president and first lady representing our country. In that respect, they both score a 10-plus.
For starters, the Obamas are a very attractive couple — fit, vibrant and health-conscious. They remind the world that all Americans don’t fit the negative stereotype of couch potatoes who eat too much junk food and exercise too little. Both are in their 50s and fabulous, to paraphrase Mrs. O’s comments on her recent 50th birthday. They’re also down-to-earth, yet articulate with a lot of class.
But there is so much more to this couple than appearance and articulation. What comes to mind immediately are three qualities I’ve observed in their relationship over the years: love, devotion and playfulness.
- Married going on 22 years, the only marriage for both, they met over the summer of 1989 when Barack was an intern in a Chicago law firm. Michelle Robinson, an attorney with the firm, was chosen as his mentor. Very soon, as the president tells the story, he wanted to ask Michelle out. Although she initially declined his overtures, Barack persevered. (This quality of perseverance would later stand him in good stead in the political arena.)
The two had their first date later in the summer. They spent time together that day at the Chicago Art Institute, went for a walk and took in a movie. Later, Barack took Michelle out for ice cream at Baskin-Robbins. Since there were no tables available, they sat on a curb in the street to finish their treats. Barack then asked Michelle for a kiss. She agreed. He said it tasted like chocolate.
That historic event is now commemorated in stone on a plaque in Hyde Park, Chicago, at the very spot where that first kiss took place. The couple married in 1992. Even with all their responsibilities now both to family and to this country, the Obamas squeeze in bits of time to maintain that all-important core connection, sharing a one-on-one conversation after dinner or when their girls are walking the dogs.
The two have been photographed innumerable times embracing, holding hands, dancing or just sharing a laugh. That special spark is still very much alive.
It has not been a perfect relationship. Whose is? The Obamas have had their rough patches, such as when the first lady discouraged the president from running against incumbent Bobby Rush in the 2000 primary for a seat in Congress. He did it anyway, lost, and found himself in debt. But their commitment to each other has stood the test of time.
- Both the president and first lady are quick to praise each other in public. During his speech at the 2013 Inaugural Ball, the president talked about Michelle, his “date” and “dance partner” for the evening. “She inspires me every day. She makes me a better man and a better president.” Mrs. Obama has also praised her husband’s good qualities publicly on many occasions.
But much more important than words is conduct, especially when you think no one is looking. Many American presidents and other politicians have been caught with their hand in someone else’s cookie jar. Even under the 24/7 scrutiny of journalists and paparazzi across the globe eager to be the first to sensationalize any hint of infidelity, there has never been a single confirmation of extramarital behavior on the part of either.
- The president and first lady admit that they frequently carry on silly banter backstage before an interview. A few years back, I watched Mrs. O teasing the president on national TV about his Christmas presents not being as good as hers, with him humorously defending his choices. As our first lady thought ahead to her recent birthday bash, orchestrated by the president, she intended to “shake a tail feather.” Both reportedly did exactly that until the wee hours of the morning. May they continue that sweet dance through life for many years to come.
President and Mrs. Obama, I consider you an exemplary American couple and wish you both a very happy Valentine’s Day — not just tomorrow, but every day of the year.