In an August 17 New York Times article about how presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama (IL) is "increasingly drawing sharp contrasts with his rivals" for the Democratic nomination, reporter Jeff Zeleny wrote: "Even Michelle Obama presented a contrast [during a campaign event] on Thursday as she introduced her husband in an open-air barn at the Cass County fairgrounds. She told a crowd of more than 200 people that family values and trust were important in the next presidential candidate. 'Our view is that if you can't run your own house, you certainly can't run the White House,' Mrs. Obama said." Zeleny did not provide Michelle Obama's full quote, nor did he explain to whom Michelle Obama was purportedly drawing a contrast. In the part of the quote The New York Times left out, Obama -- as blogger Greg Sargent noted -- immediately went on to discuss measures her family was taking to keep their children "grounded" while campaigning, indicating that her comments were not a reference to rival candidates but rather a statement about the efforts they were making to ensure that their children will continue to "come first."
After stating, "Our view is that if you can't run your own house, you certainly can't run the White House," Michelle Obama continued: "[S]o we've adjusted our schedules to make sure that our girls are first, so while he's [Barack Obama] traveling around, I do day trips" in order to be "home before bedtime." Atlantic associate editor Marc Ambinder wrote that one "recurring theme of her stump speech" is "the hard choices she and Sen. Obama have had to make about their work/family balance."
An August 21 column by the Chicago Sun-Times' Jennifer Hunter also selectively cited Michelle Obama's remarks and suggested that she was referring to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) in her statement. Hunter wrote that Obama's comment "could be interpreted as a swipe at the Clintons." But, according to Sargent, "The Obama campaign says this wasn't an attack on Hillary at all." Sargent stated that Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton sent him a statement saying: "The only family Mrs. Obama was referring to was the Obama family." Ambinder further noted that in highlighting Hunter's column, "Matt Drudge has other designs, and you can bet that the cable news networks will follow." The Drudge Report headline on the afternoon of August 21 was "Obama's Wife Slams Hillary?"
Later on August 21, CNN host Wolf Blitzer discussed Michelle Obama's remarks with Democratic strategist Donna Brazile and Republican strategist John Feehery on CNN's The Situation Room. Blitzer aired a clip of Michelle Obama saying: "One of the most important things that we need to know about the next president of the United States is, is he somebody that shares our values? Is he somebody that respects family, is a good and decent person? So our view was that, if you can't run your own house, you certainly can't run the White House." Blitzer then asked: "[W]hat do you think? Who was she referring to, because we're trying to read between the lines here." But rather than "read[ing] between the lines," Blitzer could have provided Michelle Obama's full comments, which indicate that she was discussing her family's efforts to balance family life with campaigning.
The full transcript of Michelle Obama's remarks, according to Sargent, shows that while "other parts of the speech did draw a contrast between Hillary and Obama," the context of Michelle Obama's statement "suggests that she was indeed talking about the Obama family right then." From her speech:
That one of the most important things that we need to know about the next President of the United States is, is he somebody that shares our values? Is he somebody that respects family? Is a good and decent person? So our view was that, if you can't run your own house, you certainly can't run the White House. So, so we've adjusted our schedules to make sure that our girls are first, so while he's traveling around, I do day trips. That means I get up in the morning, I get the girls ready, I get them off, I go and do trips, I'm home before bedtime. So the girls know that I was gone somewhere, but they don't care. They just know that I was at home to tuck them in at night, and it keeps them grounded, and, and children, the children in our country have to know that they come first. And our girls do and that's why we're doing this. We're in this race for not just our children, but all of our children.
From the August 17 New York Times article, headlined "Obama Takes Sharper Tone to the Trail":
A dispute between Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton over foreign policy, which began last month in a debate in South Carolina, has provided a new campaign narrative for Mr. Obama. He has tried to turn Mrs. Clinton's critiques on him back against her by reminding voters of his opposition to authorizing the Iraq war in 2002, when he was a state senator in Illinois and suggesting that he represents a break from the business-as-usual ways of Washington represented by both President Bush and Mrs. Clinton.
"It comes down to a question that the American people are going to have to ask," Mr. Obama said after a recent campaign stop in Le Mars. "Are you looking simply to replace George Bush and otherwise tweak the system and continue on a process of very modest incremental change? Or do you think that the problem is more than just George Bush and it's a problem with how Washington works?"
The message, aides say, is crafted either to lure voters to Mr. Obama's side or to keep them undecided a bit longer. By contrast, Mrs. Clinton seldom -- if ever -- makes reference to her rival as she campaigns.
"Hillary Clinton has fought for change her whole life, and she is the candidate with the strength and experience to make change happen starting in 2009," said Phil Singer, a campaign spokesman, when asked Thursday to respond to Mr. Obama.
It remains an open question whether the sharper tone -- a departure from his more professorial air early in his candidacy -- carries any risks for a candidate who pledged to campaign on a message of hope and a new kind of politics. Mr. Obama has told associates he finds the burst of aggressiveness to be liberating.
Even Michelle Obama presented a contrast here on Thursday as she introduced her husband in an open-air barn at the Cass County fairgrounds. She told a crowd of more than 200 people that family values and trust were important in the next presidential candidate.
"Our view is that if you can't run your own house, you certainly can't run the White House," Mrs. Obama said.
Later, she added: "This election is about truth and authenticity. There is nothing more important than your word. Truth does matter."
When he took the microphone, Mr. Obama used similar phrasing, saying, "Part of the change, by the way, is telling the truth to the American people about the very serious and difficult challenges and choices that we face."
From the 4 p.m. ET hour of the August 21 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:
BLITZER: The wife of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama recently said that if you can't run your own house, you certainly can't run the White House. Joining us now in our "Strategy Session," Democratic strategist Donna Brazile and Republican strategist John Feehery. All right, here's the clip -- here's a little excerpt of what Michelle Obama said and is generating some commotion on.
OBAMA [video clip]: One of the most important things that we need to know about the next president of the United States is, is he somebody that shares our values? Is he somebody that respects family, is a good and decent person? So our view was that, if you can't run your own house, you certainly can't run the White House.
BLITZER: All right, what do you think? Who was she referring to, because we're trying to read between the lines here.
BRAZILE: Well, first of all, she was introducing her husband, and she's trying to tell an audience that really don't know Barack Obama that he's a family man, that he cares about children, he cares about families, and as president, he will restore family values to the White House. I don't think he was taking -- she was taking a swipe at the Clintons or the Giulianis or anyone else. She was trying to establish his credentials as a family person.
BLITZER: What do you think, John?
FEEHERY: I think she was talking about Hillary Clinton. No doubt about it. And the Clintons, oh, they have a nice family with Chelsea and the whole nine yards. I think that all that turmoil, it's just, you know, trying to -- the Obama campaign --
BLITZER: The Obama campaign denies that, and they point to the fact that she said "is he somebody that respects family values." She didn't say "is she somebody that respects us." Because you could read this and say maybe she's referring to [Republican presidential candidate] Rudy Giuliani, who's had a history of some problems.
FEEHERY: She's probably referring to Bill Clinton, actually. The fact of the matter is, the Obama campaign is a little bit desperate. They kind of remind me of my White Sox. They keep trying all these things, but they keep making mistakes. And they don't make up any ground in the polls, and I don't know what they're going to do. I mean, he himself said he's running out of time, so I think that that's going to be trouble for the Obama campaign.
BRAZILE: She's a straight-talking person. She's very smart, she's very articulate. She's an asset to the campaign, and I think if she wanted to take a swipe at somebody, she would not hide words. Michelle Obama would come out and say it.
BLITZER: She doesn't strike me as someone who is shy about anything.