WASHINGTON (AFP) — Highly educated, strong-willed and outspoken Michelle Obama stirred up sudden controversy this week by mentioning the surge of pride she feels due to her husband's presidential bid.
Obama made the offhand comment during a campaign stop in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on Monday, when she was addressing supporters of Democratic Illinois senator Barack Obama's pursuit of the White House.
"For the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country. And not just because Barack has done well, but because I think people are hungry for change. And I have been desperate to see our country moving in that direction."
Right-wing commentators seized on the statement and interpreted it as a slip that showed liberals despise America.
The next day, the wife of Republican Arizona Senator John McCain, leading his party's race for the presidential nomination, jumped on the opportunity to contrast her feelings with Mrs. Obama's.
"I'm proud of my country. I don't know about you, if you heard those words earlier. I'm very proud of my country," said Cindy McCain, the blonde, smooth-spoken chairwoman of one of the country's largest beer distributors.
In contrast, Harvard and Princeton-educated Michelle Obama is the daughter of a plumber and is known for her frank talk.
However, potential first ladies who express strong opinions have spelled trouble in the past.
Former first lady and current contender in the White House race, Hillary Clinton, drew ire from stay-at-home moms when she commented during her husband's first campaign that she could have "stayed home and baked cookies" instead of pursuing her own career.
So Michelle Obama, a longtime lawyer and public servant, attempted to put out the fires quickly, saying on Wednesday during a campaign stop in Rhode Island: "I am proud of this country, but the thing that I know is that we can do better.
"We know we are not where we need to be for our kids," said the mother of two girls, Malia, 9, and Sasha, 6, who frequently reaches out to women voters about the challenges of balancing family and career.
Barack Obama, who met Michelle when both were starting their law careers at a prestigious Chicago firm, acknowledges his wife's strength and intellect and has not hesitated to allow her to express herself on his behalf.
He often says she is "smarter and better-looking" than he is, while she points out his human side through his foibles at home, like how he fails to put away the butter when he has finished with it, or how he snores at night.
Last week she told CNN: "Barack is going to make mistakes," but added that "he's not going to be so stubborn that he can't admit that he's making mistakes and he can't look at another way of approaching things."
Asked if his mind could be changed, she responded: "Absolutely. Hey, I change it every day."
As a vice president at University of Chicago Medical Center, Michelle Obama earned more than 200,000 dollars a year before she had to slash her hours by 80 percent to join her husband on the campaign trail.
In a Vanity Fair interview, she painted her husband as a regular guy and doting father who does laundry, takes out the trash and makes the children's beds; someone who knows what it is like to be repaying student loans well into one's 40s.
"To me, it's now or never ... We're not going to keep running and running and running, because at some point you do get the life beaten out of you," she told the magazine, about her husband's White House bid.
"It hasn't been beaten out of us yet. We need to be in there now, while we're still fresh and open and fearless and bold. You lose some of that over time. Barack is not cautious yet; he's ready to change the world, and we need that."
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