It's been well over a year since the Obamas left the White House, but their social and political insights remain as relevant as ever. And at the beginning of April, the former first lady offered the public a fresh take on the current presidency. In a moderated discussion in Boston, Michelle Obama compared Trump and Obama as metaphorical parents, according to USA Today.
Speaking at the Simmons Leadership Conference, an annual event at the all-women's private college in Boston's Fenway neighborhood, Michelle candidly described Trump and Obama's style of leadership as though they were the parents of their constituents. Obama, she said, enforced rules that were less exciting but which were ultimately good for a metaphorical child's overall well-being and health.
"I always sort of felt like the eight years that Barack was president, it was sort of like having the good parent at home," Michelle said of her husband. "You know, the responsible parent, the one who told you to eat your carrots and go to bed on time."
Trump, she said, was a little different. She described him as a parent who is less structured and, perhaps, a less focused on the consequences of not following rules. "And now perhaps we have the other parent in the house," Michelle said. She suggested that voters might have thought it would be "fun" to have Trump be the parent "because we can eat candy all day and stay up late and not follow the rules." But both "parenting" methods have long-term effects — and one seems more dangerous than the other.
Trump aside, her metaphor related back to her own efforts surrounding childhood nutrition as a first lady in the White House. Michelle famously championed healthy school lunches in public schools, contributing to tangible policy change that required schools to feed more nutrient-dense lunches to students. She also grew a garden at the White House, and authored a healthy cookbook based on that experience. (The Trump administration cut back on the school lunch program that Michelle pushed for, though First Lady Melania Trump continued to work on the White House garden last fall.)
After describing Trump and Obama as Americans' theoretical parents, Michelle also took a moment to reflect on Hillary Clinton's loss in the 2016 presidential election. Clinton, she said, "wasn’t perfect, but she was way more perfect than many of the alternatives."
When considering Clinton's loss, Michelle also pointed to what she considered to be the lack of women voters willing to support female candidates. "We are here because a lot of people didn’t vote," Michelle said, according to WGBH Boston. She continued:
Women weren’t comfortable voting for a woman, sadly. We have to own that reality. To me that is the deeper question for us to claim. As women, what happened? What is going on inside of us where we are still afraid to embrace a different vision of leadership?
As someone who is both familiar with the inner workings of the White House and so readily able to share thoughtful insights into what it means to be a leader, many have asked and urged the former first lady to consider a run for office — especially for the big one her husband held. Michelle, however, underscored that she would not be running for president. Instead, she said, she would be focusing on shaping the next generation of leaders. Sticking with her parenting metaphor, she said she is focused on long-term goals.
"You have to want the job," she explained. "Just because I gave a good speech, and I’m smart and intelligent, doesn’t mean I should be the next president. That is not how we should pick the president."