Book review: ‘Becoming’ by Michelle Obama

By LARRY BALLWAHN | Wilton

Michelle Obama is the product of the South Side of Chicago and parents who valued their children’s education above all else. Her father suffered from multiple sclerosis for most of his life, yet tended boilers in the water filtration plant on Chicago’s lakefront for more than 20 years. Her mother was a stay-at-home mom for much of Michelle’s childhood, seeking work only as it became necessary to support the college education of her two children. To economize, the family lived in the upstairs apartment of a relative. Her older brother, Keith Robinson, used his education and basketball skill to become a college coach and eventually an NBA executive.

As suggested by the title, “Becoming” is the story of a South Side African-American girl who became a lawyer, a community-relations administrator and eventually First Lady of the United States. Before this, though, there were lessons learned while growing up: family relationships, early dating, and the transition of a neighborhood.

Barack Hussein Obama came into Michelle’s life as a mentee law student. Michelle, now a lawyer for the firm Sidley & Austin, was to mentor promising young law students with the idea of attracting them to the firm. Though it took some time, she and Barack found many interests in common, and eventually a romance developed. It became apparent that they didn’t have everything in common, however. Barack was the product of vastly different lessons growing up and was interested in furthering his goals through politics. Michelle was far from enamored with things political. Though she acquiesced up to and including the presidency, her feeling about politics has not changed.

Among the discoveries of a politician’s spouse is family time is governed by political time, your business is everybody’s business, and criticism is part of the game and it hurts.

Barack was in the Illinois Legislature when he saw a chance to enlarge his political impact. When an opportunity for a U.S. Senate seat came available, he was all in; Michelle wasn’t.

As would happen soon after with the Presidential run, she became convinced that if Barack wasn’t her husband, he was who she would want in office. As a result, in both instances, she became a key part of the campaign.

Barack was not long in the Senate when people started seeing him as a potential presidential candidate. Taking up the challenge, it came down to a contest between him and Hillary Clinton. As we know, he won.

The most informative part of the book is when the two terms of the presidency are described. Attempting to have a private life is out of the question. Trying to give two young girls a normal childhood is almost as hard. The latter was made somewhat possible with great effort by the parents and the fact that Michelle’s mother joined the family at the White House. To be sure the president is not distracted from his duties, his family must be fully protected from possible harm. This involves the constant presence of the Secret Service, motorcades and advance screenings of every destination. The president, of course, has double that, with sharp shooters posted and the nuclear code close at hand. Imagine the parents going to a parent-teacher conference, which is described along with several other activity challenges.

Also described are numerous insights developed during the experience of being the first …. “Our presence in the White House had been celebrated by millions of Americans, but it also contributed to a reactionary sense of fear and resentment among others. The hatred was old and deep and as dangerous as ever.” Near the end, the book deals with the final months of the Obama presidency and the 2016 election. It also is insightful.

I don’t know how any book could give you more insight into life in the White House than “Becoming.” And that is only one of its merits.

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