The Obamas

The Obamas Might Just Have a Great Marriage Despite Everything
New books dissected over email.
Jan. 13 2012 11:39 AM

The Obamas

VIEW ALL ENTRIES

Why, despite everything, the Obamas seem to have a truly great marriage.

The Obamas.
Why is the White House complaining about Jodi Kantor's The Obamas?

Mark Wilson.

Dear Deborah,

Jacob  Weisberg Jacob Weisberg

Jacob Weisberg is chairman and editor-in-chief of The Slate Group and author of The Bush Tragedy. Follow him on Twitter.

I remember coming home and telling you about the one conversation I had with Michelle Obama, for a story I wrote about her husband the senator in 2006. She talked in the blunt way she used to be able to before he became a presidential candidate. She said she couldn’t stand Washington, couldn’t think of a single good thing to say about it, which is why she had decided to stay back in Chicago with their daughters. But she really believed in Barack and because of that was willing—though hardly eager—to make major personal sacrifices for the sake of his political career.

That interview, and a longer one I had with him for the same story, left me with an inkling about their marriage. Not an understanding of it—just a sense of how rich a subject it might be. Both Obamas are deep, layered, hard-to-read people. As personalities, they have some appealing qualities in common. They’re driven, but unusually observant and reflective for driven people. The most reluctant of political couples, they’re allergic to performance and fakery. Their relationship is obviously authentic—and clearly has its share of tensions and difficulties.

Advertisement

In The Obamas (Little, Brown), Jodi Kantor, whom I need to acknowledge is a friend and former colleague of mine at Slate, has done a first-rate job reporting on the Obamas in tandem. Her book gives you a better sense of their life inside the White House than any of the other insider accounts I’ve read. Unlike, say, Ron Suskind’s book, it’s also reliable—no one has challenged any of her details or anecdotes. What The Obamas doesn’t do, to my disappointment, is advance our understanding of their relationship. I wanted a portrait of the Obama marriage, and Kantor doesn’t give us one.

Doing that might be an impossible task—states of mind are not something you can readily report on, New York Times-style. Maybe we have to leave this sort of mystery to novelists like Curtis Sittenfeld, who imagined what might be going on behind Laura Bush’s frozen smile in American Wife. But I have to think a more worldly and psychologically astute journalist—a Joan Didion, a Marjorie Williams, a Katie Roiphe—could have moved this inquiry into more fruitful, if inevitably speculative territory. This book left me craving insight into what makes this particular marriage work.

Because the Obama marriage really does seem to work, don’t you agree? It might even be considered a great marriage, which does right by their children, creates a warm circle of friendship around it, and brings out the best in both partners over time. Of course, you never do know about other couples. They might split up next week. But I’ll confess to a rooting interest here. We’re a two-career, professional couple who got married at around the same time and at about the same age the Obamas did. Lily and Nate are nearly the same ages as Sasha and Malia. As wildly different as our lives are, I do identify with their partnership, and his father-ship. I love that the president insists on having dinner in most nights, coaches basketball, and makes time to read to his girls.

One other point. I can’t understand why the White House is complaining about this book. Someone should tell the Obamas that it makes them look really good. Or perhaps you had a different reaction?

Affectionately,

Yr husband

TODAY IN SLATE

Foreigners

More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

IOS 8 Comes Out Today. Do Not Put It on Your iPhone 4S.

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows

The Human Need to Find Connections in Everything

It’s the source of creativity and delusions. It can harm us more than it helps us.

Jurisprudence

Happy Constitution Day!

Too bad it’s almost certainly unconstitutional.

The Ungodly Horror of Having a Bug Crawl Into Your Ear and Scratch Away at Your Eardrum

My Father Was James Brown. I Watched Him Beat My Mother. Then I Married Someone Like Him.

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 17 2014 2:57 PM ISIS Helps Snuff Out Conservative Opposition to Government Funding Bill
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
  Life
Outward
Sept. 17 2014 1:59 PM Ask a Homo: Secret Ally Codes 
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 17 2014 1:26 PM Hey CBS, Rihanna Is Exactly Who I Want to See on My TV Before NFL Games
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 17 2014 1:01 PM A Rare, Very Unusual Interview With Michael Jackson, Animated
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 12:35 PM IOS 8 Comes Out Today. Do Not Put It on Your iPhone 4S.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 17 2014 11:18 AM A Bridge Across the Sky
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.