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Video: First lady: I’m ‘not that interesting’

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    >> port-au-prince for us this morning.

    >>> now to our exclusive interview with first lady michelle obama . she's been under intense scrutiny ever since her husband decided to run for president, and the spotlight has only grown brighter during president obama 's first year in office. we sat down with mrs. obama at the white house on tuesday, and i began by asking her what it's like to have everything you do, say and wear make headlines all around the world. could you have imagined the magnitude --

    >> no.

    >> -- of the attention that you've received over these past 12 months?

    >> no. i don't think i'm that interesting. i don't think my husband is that interesting. i keep wondering, are they still talking about you? but no. there's no way i could have predicted it, but i can say that i've enjoyed this year. i feel honored and privileged to be this nation's first lady. it's been a wonderful welcome.

    >> it seems a guessing game going on about you, mrs. obama. people are trying to figure out what kind of first lady you want to be, and do you want to be a first lady in the laura bush mold, a little lower profile and less controversy or maybe in the hillary clinton mold, a little higher profile and maybe with that comes more controversy. have you thought about that?

    >> every first lady who sat in these shoes or stood in these shoes has brought something very different to the task. that's sort of the beauty of this. we don't have a job description . so, i think every model is one that i learned from, but my goal overall is just to be helpful. i mean, fundamentally, i want to look back on this time and feel like i affected somebody's life because i was here.

    >> your popularity at the polls, right now they have you at about a 70% approval rating . that is higher than mrs. bush at this stage of her being first lady, higher than hillary clinton when she was first lady, and i should mention that your husband's approval rating -- you're chuckling -- has gone a little bit in the other direction. it came in in the mid-60s, he's now at about 47%. has it been hard for you over this past year to witness some of the things that have been said about him, the criticism that has been leveled at him and the reality of this job?

    >> it's part of the job . this has been a tough year for the nation, folks out of work, two wars. we have an economy that we pulled from the brink of depression. folks, you know, they're looking for work, they're losing their homes. i mean, so, americans are rightfully frustrated, and the person in charge is the person folks look to. health insurance reform is the next step, so we're going to need you all.

    >> you did get out there and push for health care reform , and since the loss of ted kennedy 's seat in massachusetts, it's far from certain, and it seems some democrats are willing to maybe let it go to the back burner and let it go with the whimper as opposed to a bang. will it pass? can your husband get it done?

    >> i hope so. the country needs health care . it's hard, it's scary, it's confusing, but i hope for our country's sake that we can do this now and not wait until things get worse. i mean, i agree with the president when he said that we don't have the option to do nothing. he's right.

    >> i was here almost a year ago today interviewing your husband on super bowl sunday. it was a heady time for you as a family and for democrats. there was all the talk of hope and change, and here as we sit here a year later, the mood and the tone have changed dramatically, and i'm just worried if that stings a little bit.

    >> you know, i think we're all, you know, working. we have to continue to work on how to disagree without being disagreeable. barack warned us about this over the course of the campaign. he talked about hope, but hope, with that, comes compromise and sacrifice, and it's painful and it takes time, and it's true, and we're sort of feeling the pain of that, and it's a natural reaction for --

    >> but has it been hard to keep your spirits up and his spirits up?

    >> i don't want to seem, you know, unrealistically optimistic, but our experiences on the ground are outstanding.

    >> you mean, when you go out and meet people.

    >> when we go out and meet people, even people who are struggling. folks are gracious in this country. they're enthusiastic. they want this country to succeed. i think that they are confident that they have a president who cares and who's serious. they may not agree with the direction, but that's what we feel.

    >> during the campaign, when your husband was running for president, you were out on the campaign trail, there was a lot of criticizing of president bush and his policies. i'm just wondering now 12 months later, being the family in the white house , if your perspective on that has changed, in that perhaps maybe it would have been better to be less judgmental now that you know the pressures that the president is under.

    >> yeah, well, you know, i think that on the campaign trail my husband, his goal was to be truthful and honest about the problems that we face. the truth is, is that this job is hard.

    >> right.

    >> it's hard for every person who sits in that office. i think that's one of the sort of unifying things about presidents and former presidents, is that only they and their families understand the pressure of this job, and obviously, we have much more respect for those who have held the position, but barack will face others who will follow him who will be critical and should have the right to be critical of things that they don't agree with.

    >> you just mentioned the pressures of the job, and i'm not sure if your husband was standing here i'd ask this question in the same way, but i'll try it with you privately. you know, if i were to hold a picture of your husband up from 16 months ago and i were to hold a picture up next to it of today, the obvious truth is, the job has aged him a little. you look at his hair, it's grayer.

    >> yeah.

    >> there's little more wear and tear on his face. he still looks good, mind you.

    >> he's cute!

    >> i'm not bad-mouthing your husband here --

    >> hey. no.

    >> when you look at him, do you notice the toll that it's taken physically on him?

    >> you know, probably -- no, because i see him every day. it's the kind of thing, you see your kids every day, you don't notice that they've grown two inches until you stand up next to them and go what happened to you? you know, i tease barack all the time, because you know, the gray issue is interesting because his mother, his grandfather, they were all completely gray, so he was going that direction anyway.

    >> let me read you some of the accolades you've received over the past year or so, okay?

    >> take your time.

    >> no, okay, i'll go through them slowly. you were named to "forbes" magazine's most powerful women list, "people" magazine's most beautiful list, "time" magazine's most influential list, and you made "maxim" magazine's list of hottest women.

    >> no, i didn't hear that. are there people laughing about that?

    >> i didn't even hear a chuckle, not one chuckle. i don't know a lot of people who can live in those two worlds that i've just mentioned here.

    >> yeah, i don't know anyone who can, either. it's a good thing i don't know. well, you know, i approach this position like i approach my life. i try to be as authentically me as i can be. i've said this before. because it's easier to maintain it. so, what people have seen over the course of the year is really michel michelle, and i find a level of comfort in that role. so, i don't think about occupying a list or a title. i still see myself as michelle obama , the girl who grew up on the south side of chicago , marian and frasier's daughter. i've got this husband who does these interesting things and i'm malia and sasha's mother.

    >> and malia and sasha, by the way, were upstairs doing their homework while we were doing that interview.

    >> you understand why her approval rating is as high as it is, because she's just a very, very likable person.

    >> no question about it. by

By
TODAY
updated 2/3/2010 10:31:29 AM ET 2010-02-03T15:31:29

When she moved to the nation’s most prestigious address, Michelle Obama’s husband told her that rough times were ahead. The country was in recession, people were out of work, the political parties were in open warfare — and the man who was going to be blamed for it all was President Barack Obama.

But you won’t hear the first lady utter a peep of complaint.

“The truth is, there are a lot of folks who are hurting. And there’s no way I’m going to sit here and complain; I’m sitting in the White House,” Michelle Obama told TODAY’s Matt Lauer during an exclusive, far-ranging White House interview that aired Wednesday.

It’s just over a year since Michelle Obama set up housekeeping at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. And while she’s been much in the spotlight during that time, she maintains that she’s still the same person she always was.

“I still see myself as Michelle Obama, the girl who grew up in the South Side of Chicago — Marian and Fraser’s daughter. I’ve got this husband who does these interesting things — and I’m Malia and Sasha’s mother,” she said.

“I approach this position like I approach my life,” the first lady went on. “I try to be as authentically me as I can be, because it’s easier to maintain it. So what people have seen over the course of the year is really Michelle. And I find a level of comfort in that role.”

Juggling challenges
Mrs. Obama has already taken on the cause of addressing the special problems and concerns of military families. Now, she’s launching an initiative that could define her term as first lady. She’s taking on childhood obesity.

“There are the shocking statistics that are there,” Mrs. Obama said. “One in three kids are obese in this nation. And the numbers go up when you’re talking about the African-American and Hispanic communities. The most shocking sort of reality that really hits you is that, because the young generation is on track for the first time in this nation’s history of being less healthy, having a shorter life span than their parents.”

Video: Michelle Obama: Obesity is ‘solvable’ If it seems like a lot for one woman to do, Mrs. Obama said she really has a very manageable schedule that’s built around her daughters.

“Just like many working parents, it’s balance. People may have said I’ve taken on too many issues or what have you, but I usually work two or three days a week, and we try to pack everything into a day,” she explained. “I don’t work on the weekends. I don’t travel on the days that I’m not there.”

She doesn’t start work until the girls leave for school, and she returns to the White House living quarters when her daughters come home in the afternoon. The president joins them for dinner and doesn’t bring his job with him.

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Roses and thorns
At the dinner table, the family plays a game called “roses and thorns,” which means each person reports the day’s good events — the roses — and the bad — thorns.

Lauer asked Mrs. Obama what her roses and thorns for the day would be.

“Well, the best thing is always dinnertime, so it hasn’t happened yet,” Mrs. Obama said. “Haven’t had a thorn yet.”

Video: Breakfast at the White House In fact, the first lady’s public perception is rosier than her husband’s. While President Obama’s approval numbers have dropped below 50 percent, Mrs. Obama’s have remained sky-high — around 70 percent.

“You were named to Forbes magazine’s most powerful women list, People magazine’s most beautiful list, Time magazine’s most influential list, and you made Maxim magazine’s list of hottest women,” Lauer told a bemused first lady.

“I didn’t hear that,” she said, laughing at the Maxim pick.

Shades of gray
The year has treated the first lady well, even as it has seemed to age her husband, whose hair is noticeably grayer than it was a year ago. Although Mrs. Obama said she hasn’t noticed that the president has aged, she does remind him about his hair.

“I tease Barack all the time,” she said. “The gray issue is interesting, because his mother, his grandfather, they were all completely gray. So he was going that direction anyway.”

If he’s gotten there a bit quicker, it’s just a reflection of how hard the job is — and the Obamas knew that coming in.

“Hope and change are hard-fought things,” Mrs. Obama said. “Barack warned us about this over the course of the campaign. He talked a lot about hope, but he said that with that comes compromise and sacrifice. And it’s painful, and it takes time. It’s true, and we’re sort of feeling the pain of that.”

Slideshow: Michelle Obama's effortless style She said the president is handling the pressure.

“He’s doing well,” Mrs. Obama said of her husband. “He is focused and clear-headed. He works very hard. And I think he’s handled the pressure with that same level of grace that he came here with.”

It may not have been an easy year, but Mrs. Obama wasn’t complaining.

“My goal overall is just to be helpful. I mean, fundamentally, I want to look back on this time and feel like I affected somebody’s life because I was here,” she said. “And if that’s kids, it’s wonderful. If I’ve shined the light on our military families, and they feel more appreciated, and the country is more focused on the care that we need to give to them; if people feel more sane in their work and family lives, if we have more kids teaching in schools, and doing national service, and people say that it’s because of me, that’s great.

“I feel blessed and privileged,” she told Lauer. “Our job is to work to ensure that more families feel the security that everyone wants living here in America.”

Tune in to TODAY Thursday, Jan. 4 for more of Matt Lauer's exclusive interview with the first lady.

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