Real talk: By far the most endearing thing in Michelle Obama’s new memoir Becoming is that she seizes absolutely every opportunity she has to brutally drag her husband. Barack Obama may be America’s first black president and a Nobel Peace Prize winner, but Michelle Obama is never going to let the world forget that he wore a Miami Vice suit in the ’80s and was late for his first day of work when she was his boss.
It’s endearing — and it’s also effective. Part of what a first lady memoir is traditionally supposed to do is convince readers of the authenticity of the presidential marriage, to make us believe that these two people genuinely like and trust each other, and that we in turn should like and trust them. The Obamas have always been exceptionally gifted at presenting their relationship to the public as a genuine romantic partnership that deserves America’s respect and admiration — remember when they danced to “At Last” at the inauguration ball in 2008? — and Becoming only serves to crystallize that image.
Every time Michelle drags her husband, the affection that breathes through her words serves to make the Obama marriage feel even more authentic and even more admirable. Though it happens several times throughout the book, here are the four best times Michelle drags Barack in Becoming — and one time they bond by dragging everyone else.
1. When she drags him before they even meet
Michelle and Barack Obama met when Barack was hired for a summer position at Michelle’s law firm, and she was assigned to be his company mentor. But even before they officially met, Michelle was not impressed.
For one thing, the kid was late on his first day of work, which Michelle saw, she writes, as “nothing but hubris.”
For another thing, he had a reputation for being both brilliant and cute, and Michelle was skeptical of both. “In my experience,” she writes, “you put a suit on any half-intelligent black man and white people tended to go bonkers.” When she later saw a picture of him, she was unmoved, describing her impression of him only as that of “a guy with a big smile and a whiff of geekiness.”
2. When she can’t deal with his fashion sense
Early on in their friendship, Michelle decided to take Barack to a happy hour with some of her friends so that she could try to set him up with someone. But when he showed up at the bar, his outfit was not up to snuff: “He’d changed out of his work clothes, I noticed, and was wearing a white linen blazer that looked as if it’d come straight out of the Miami Vice costume closet. Ah well.”
3. When he’s just very tortured by income inequality
Not long after they started dating, Michelle woke up one night to find Barack awake and deep in thought:
He looked vaguely troubled, as if he were pondering something deeply personal. Was it our relationship? The loss of his father?
“Hey, what’re you thinking about over there?” I whispered.
He turned to look at me, his smile a little sheepish. “Oh,” he said. “I was just thinking about income inequality.”
Michelle genuinely admires Barack’s high-mindedness, she says — “but honestly,” she adds, “try living with it.”
4. When she’s pretty sure running for office is a terrible idea
Barack began pursuing political office in the mid-’90s, and Michelle was not a fan of the idea. “Quite honestly,” she writes, “I thought he’d get eaten alive.” Even in recounting how he ultimately committed to the decision and Michelle made up her mind to support him in his choice, she can’t resist a dry aside:
This won’t be news to anyone, but my husband did become a politician. He was a good person who wanted to have an impact in the world, and despite my skepticism he decided this was the best way to go about it. Such is the nature of his faith.
5. When they fall in love through their mutual love of shade
What becomes clear through the course of Becoming is that affectionately dragging everyone is the Obama love language — and it’s ultimately what brings the pair together.
During that fateful summer at Michelle’s law firm, she and Barack first bonded by quietly mocking everyone else there. “We gave each other sideways glances when people around us got us stressed to the point of mania,” she writes, “when partners made comments that seemed condescending or out of touch.”
And on their first date, they went to see Les Mis and formed a connection over how much they both hated it:
I don’t know if it was my mood or whether it was just Les Misérables itself, but I spent the next hour feeling helplessly pounded by French misery. Grunts and chains. Poverty and rape. Injustice and oppression. Millions of people around the world had fallen in love with this musical, but I squirmed in my seat, trying to rise above the inexplicable torment I felt every time the melody repeated.
When the lights went up for intermission, I stole a glance at Barack. He was slumped down, with his right elbow on the armrest and index finger resting on his forehead, his expression unreadable.
“What’d you think?” I said.
He gave me a sideways look. “Horrible, right?”
Truly, the couple that shades together stays together.