They are the elite group of women who occupy the East Wing of the White House as their husbands serve as presidents of the United States.
Viewed as ‘the true modern power brokers of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue’, the first ladies have had different takes on their public positions and either love the proximity to the country’s top policy advisers or view it as serving a prison term of teas, luncheons, dinners and photo ops.
There are friendships among this sorority of first ladies and turbulent rivalries as well as ‘relationships fraught with hurt feelings and resentment, like that between Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama’, Kate Andersen Brower writes in her new book, First Women, the Grace and Power of America’s Modern First Ladies, published by Harper.
‘The 2008 presidential campaign left deep and lasting scars on both the Clinton and the Obama camps, and they are still shockingly fresh.’
Michelle, now 52, never forgot how Hillary mocked her husband’s message of ‘hope and change’ at a campaign rally in Ohio during that campaign.
‘The sky will open, the light will come down, celestial choirs will be singing, and everyone will know that we should do the right thing, and the world would be perfect,’ Clinton said.
Hillary was right; that certainly didn’t happen and she has remained bitter for years that Senator Ted Kennedy, who had been her mentor in the Senate, did not support her presidential candidacy in 2008.
A source in Hillary’s inner circle told the author that Hillary, now 68, is running again for president out of vengeance for that loss. She needs to win.
Obama is viewed by Hillary’s circle of people as not having the same work ethic as Hillary who they see as having a long record of dedicated public service.
Those Clinton acolytes also suggest that ‘Michelle has not done enough as first lady’ and has failed to prioritize funding for some programs that subsequently lost their federal support.
One such program was Save America’s Treasures, a program that Hillary started to help preserve and protect historic sites, arts and published works and was lovingly carried on by Laura Bush, the next first lady.
Michelle felt no such obligation to those treasures and let the program dissolve.
Michelle’s feelings towards Hillary were blatantly obvious when no couple dinners were scheduled at the Obama White House while Hillary was secretary of state and frequently meeting with the President.
Michelle is very close to Jill Biden and Vice President Joe Biden. She was hoping that Biden would run against Hillary for the Democratic nomination and his win would take away the sweet taste of victory once again for Hillary.
‘When Michelle Obama views the Clintons, I don’t want to say she’s looking down her nose at them – but she kind of is’, a former Obama adviser confided to the author.
‘Recent charges of corruption and messy contributions to the Clinton’s Global Initiative, the family’s $2 billion foundation’ have fired up the enmity between both parties.
‘It fits into the narrative about the Clintons that they come off as just trying to claw their way towards success and money’.
Michelle’s aides state that she, herself, is looking forward to the day she can walk out of what she calls a ‘really nice prison’, be a former first lady and make those big bucks herself on book deals and speaking fees.
Hillary earned a near-record advance of a reported $8 million when she penned a book deal with publisher Simon & Schuster in the final month of Bill’s presidency to write about her years as first lady.
Michelle is so frustrated in the White House, she’s eager to exit the fishbowl. She longs to be a private person again.
When the Obamas moved into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Michelle was 45 and it was the first time in her adult life that she was not working.
Back in her hometown of Chicago, she was earning $275,000 annually as vice president of external affairs at the University of Chicago Medical Center.
She loved the job.
The election changed the game and Michelle felt apprehensive about how her daughters, Malia and Sasha, 10 and 7 at the time, would transition into a high profile life in the big white mansion in Washington.
That transition was solely her responsibility and she called on her mother, Marian Robinson, to give up her own life in Chicago and accompany the family to Washington.
Marion was not keen on the move and was sweetly ensconced in her life in Chicago but she had been Michelle’s infrastructure – as Michelle calls it — in Chicago where Barack was home Thursday night until Monday.
Michelle has leaned on her mother’s guiding hand for years and credits her with helping the family stay grounded there as well as in the White House.
Over the past seven years, Michelle’s unhappiness is evident in the increasingly difficult access to her as first lady.