One Good Thing is Vox’s recommendations feature. In each edition, find one more thing from the world of culture that we highly recommend.
As President Trump tweets about canceling the election and the pandemic’s death toll rises, it can feel both soothing and painful to recall the last administration to sit in the White House. Of course, the Obama administration was not perfect, but wow, remember when it was unthinkable for a US president to publicly suggest not holding an election? Remember how that now-halcyon time was less than four years ago?
Into this moment of profound nostalgia for pre-2016 election comes The Michelle Obama Podcast, now streaming exclusively on Spotify. Obama interviews celebrities, close friends, and family members, and talks about her own life and the issues that are important to her. In the first episode, which dropped July 29, she interviews her husband, Barack, about marriage, community, and the value of public service.
The Obamas don’t say anything particularly earth-shattering together. The general thrust of their conversation is that the US’s culture of individualism is unsustainable, and that it is important for people to be invested in serving their communities and in making sure the government serves them. They talk about the way everyone looked after everyone else’s kids in the neighborhoods where they grew up, and how giving back to one’s community is the key to happiness. And they do it all with their characteristic combination of warmth and reason.
“One of the reasons I fell in love with you —” Michelle Obama begins early on in the interview.
“It was just because of my looks,” Barack Obama interjects jokingly.
“No,” Michelle responds shortly. “I mean, you’re cute, but no. But one of the reasons I fell in love with you is you’re guided by the principle that we are our brother’s and sister’s keepers. And that’s how I was raised.”
The playfulness of this exchange, and the moral ideas about interdependence embedded into it, would not have been shocking a few years ago. But in this particular moment, they have acquired a wistful, melancholy power. Listen to these adults who like and respect each other and have clearly thought-out ideas about the role of government in making people’s lives better. Wild stuff.
Barack Obama is not going to appear on every episode of his wife’s podcast, but Michelle Obama has more than enough force of personality to stand on her own. Her great skill as a public figure lies in creating a sense of closeness with her audience, enough so that when she went on her book tour last year, she could bill each stadium stop as “an intimate conversation” with 20,000 people. That skill is a natural fit for podcasting, where the hosts seem to live inside their listener’s ears, and a show lives or dies by how quickly the host is able to convince the listener that they are close friends.
Part of how Michelle Obama convinces people that they are her close friends is by insulting her husband to his face. This is one of her most endearing moves, and it gets me every time: “Oh, Michelle,” I always think, “You don’t love anything as much as you love reading Barack for filth,” as though we are all on first-name terms.
On this episode, both Obamas burst out laughing after Michelle asks Barack if he thinks enough people will vote in this fall’s election to change things. He starts to say that yes, he thinks they will, and then Michelle breaks in: “Of course you do,” she says; “you’re the ‘yes, we can’ man,” and she pitches her voice high and squeaky and mocking on “yes, we can.”
It’s not actually a great joke. But they are both so delighted by it, and by each other, that listening, you feel delighted too. It’s always easy to feel delighted by Michelle Obama.
You can listen to The Michelle Obama Podcast on Spotify. New episodes will release weekly.