Mother, wife, superstar
Michelle Obama ‘hits a home run’ at Pasadena fundraiser
By Joe Piasecki 06/05/2008
Perhaps I don’t have the best perspective on what happened last Wednesday afternoon during Michelle Obama’s fundraising appearance at the ritzy Pasadena home of Drs. Karen Guinn and Roby Radley.
It’s hard not to be a little snarky about a moment you’re completely shut out of. For the second time in less than a year, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama — who claimed the party’s nomination Tuesday — or his wife have visited Pasadena and prevented press from covering the event.
And twice last week this reporter was ordered out of the driveway of that home (and out of earshot for most of Obama’s speech) and harassed by Secret Service agents, one irritable suit-and-sunglasses Neanderthal in particular.
The scene inside the house, however, was a much more pleasant and inspiring affair for hundreds of supporters who paid $300, $500 or more to see and hear our possible next first lady.
The biggest impression that Obama, who steered clear of speaking for her husband about specific policy goals, seemed to leave with audience members was her dedication to being a mother first, a wife second and public figure third.
“She was asked about her campaign schedule and her children, and she hit a home run with the crowd, which was heavily but not exclusively women, by saying that her commitment is to be away overnight only once a week — to campaign only two days a week and be home by the end of the second day,” said Mayor Bill Bogaard.
That point also struck Pasadena resident and mother Annie Haggstrom, who teaches English at Belmont High School in downtown Los Angeles, which primarily serves low income and immigrant students. “Having someone around the home is pretty meaningful for a lot of kids,” she said.
“What I found most moving, being a grandmother, was her total commitment not only to her husband but to her children at the same time,” added Saundra Knox, former executive director of Pasadena Neighborhood Housing Services and current vice chair of the city’s Lincoln Avenue Project Area Committee.
Obama, a Harvard Law School graduate who met her husband while working as a business attorney and later served as a dean at the University of Chicago, had plenty of other things to say, a few of them within this reporter’s earshot.
“Over the course of the year, Barack Obama is still the man I knew. He has not changed,” she said, inadvertently ironic in that change has been the mantra of the Obama campaign.
“Barack has shown us he’s had the courage to take on issues like race and deal with all kinds of craziness … tap into things we never thought we could address as a nation, open wounds and then try to heal them,” she said, without mentioning directly the controversy surrounding his association with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.
Obama did not, however, fail to mention presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain while discussing the need to address the war in Iraq, education, immigration and lack of access to medical care.
“[Americans] share a common set of values, yet our politics has yet to embrace this. Instead we use fear. … A unifying message can be just as powerful,” she said. “Barrack is committed not only to having a unified party, but having a unified country.”
Before addressing the crowd of supporters, Obama left a solid impression during short meet-and-greets with local dignitaries, among them Bogaard and Councilman Victor Gordo.
“What I said to her as Pasadena’s only Latino on the City Council was that I was happy on behalf of the Latino community to welcome her to Pasadena … [and that] as more and more Latinos get to know her husband and the message he brings, my belief is more Latinos will sign on to the Obama campaign,” said Gordo. “She agreed we needed to continue to build bridges, and that she and Sen. Obama recognize that and are focused on that.”
Throughout the campaign, pundits have observed that Obama has not done as well as Sen. Hilary Clinton with Latino voters.
Bogaard did not talk politics in his private moment with Obama, instead welcoming her to the city and presenting her with a gift — a book of sketches of the city by artist Joseph Stoddard.
“Michelle is a calm and open person who is easy to talk with, and she hears what you say and responds to it,” said Bogaard. During the public portion of the event, “She talked in broad terms about an agenda that addresses the needs of young people, seniors, persons of lower income. She did discuss the healthcare system and how it needs to be strengthened, but she has clearly in mind that she is not the candidate.”
Ralph McKnight, an Obama campaign volunteer who sits on the executive board of the California Democratic Party, described the event as an “uplifting” occasion.
“The fascinating thing was you had a sense you were in close company with someone who before long is going to be the first lady,” he said. “She made a lot of people happy just by being there.”