Michelle Obama Says White House Like ‘Nice Prison’

Michelle Obama and her predecessor “First Lady” Laura Bush appeared together Tuesday at a summit on promoting the role of African first ladies in bringing change to their countries. In a panel hosted by ABC News’s Cokie Roberts, one particular exchange focused on whether the first lady role, and living in the White House, can be confining. Here is the relevant portion of the transcript, as provided by the White House.

COKIE ROBERTS:  … This question of “First Lady” has always been somewhat fraught.  You quoted Mrs. Johnson, Mrs. Bush, but it really — particularly, I know in the United States, Americans have always been a little bit wary about first ladies — they’re not elected, and they can’t be fired — (laughter) — and they have a whole lot of power.  But it can also be a little confining, I think is a fair way to put it.

Martha Washington, our first First Lady, wrote in the first year that she was First Lady, she wrote to her niece that she felt like a “Chief State Prisoner.”  (Laughter.)  But she was able to do good — she lobbied for all of those veterans that she had been to camp with through the Revolutionary War.  And people don’t realize that first ladies have been doing that kind of thing from Martha Washington –

MRS. OBAMA:  Absolutely.

MS. ROBERTS:  And, Mrs. Obama, you talked about — you’ve talked about, wherever you go, there’s a light that shines, and that you’re able to shine that light on something that needs attention that wouldn’t otherwise get it.  Talk about that a little bit.

MRS. OBAMA:  That’s absolutely true. I always joke that we have probably the best jobs in the world because, unlike our husbands who have to react and respond to crisis on a minute-by-minute basis — they come into office with a wonderful, profound agenda, and then they’re faced with the reality.  (Laughter.)

On the other hand, we get to work on what we’re passionate about.  And I think that that’s something that I would encourage all first ladies to never lose sight of.  You have an opportunity to speak to your passions and to really design and be very strategic about the issues you care most about.  And I just found it just a very freeing and liberating opportunity.

 MS. ROBERTS:  No state prisoner?  (Laughter.)

MRS. OBAMA:  No, there are prison elements to it.  (Laughter.)  But it’s a really nice prison, so –

MRS. BUSH:  But with a chef.  (Laughter.)

MRS. OBAMA:  You can’t complain.  But there is definitely elements that are confining.

MS. ROBERTS:  And she said that before tweeting and cell phones.

MRS. OBAMA:  That’s right, 24-hour media.

MS. ROBERTS:  And she could cover her hair with that cap.  (Laughter.)

MRS. OBAMA:  Right.  But being able to pursue our passions and do things that not only help our country and connect us with the rest of the world, it’s a great privilege.  So while people are sort of sorting through our shoes and our hair — (laughter) — whether we cut it or not –

MRS. BUSH:  Whether we have bangs.

MRS. OBAMA:  Whether we have bangs.  (Laughter.)  Who would have thought?  I didn’t call that one.  (Laughter.)

MRS. BUSH:  I said that just because our daughter, Barbara, cut bangs at the same time Michelle did.  They commiserated –

MRS. OBAMA:  I was doing what Barbara was doing.  (Laughter.)  I was just following her lead.  But we take our bangs and we stand in front of important things that the world needs to see.  And eventually, people stop looking at the bangs and they start looking at what we’re standing in front of.

MRS. BUSH:  We hope.

MRS. OBAMA:  They do, and that’s the power of our roles.

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