A Promised Land

A Promised Land

Book - 2020
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jimg2000
Jan 13, 2021

Herein are Barrack's love notes to his wife, may or may not part of the 311 quotes posted in Goodreads:

I’m a slow walker—a Hawaiian walk, Michelle likes to say, sometimes with a hint of impatience.
===
I asked them to describe their world as it was and as they would like it to be. It was a simple exercise I’d done many times, a way for people to bridge the reality of their communities and their lives with the things they could conceivably change. Afterward, as we were walking to the car, Michelle laced her arm through mine and said she’d been touched by my easy rapport with the women.
===
“You gave them hope.” “They need more than hope,” I said. I tried to explain to her the conflict that I was feeling: between working for change within the system and pushing against it; wanting to lead but wanting to empower people to make change for themselves; wanting to be in politics but not of it. Michelle looked at me. “The world as it is, and the world as it should be,” she said softly.

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Jan 13, 2021

We didn’t just love each other and make each other laugh and share the same basic values—there was symmetry there, the way we complemented each other. We could have each other’s back, guard each other’s blind spots. We could be a team. Of course, that was another way of saying we were very different, in experience and in temperament. For Michelle, the road to the good life was narrow and full of hazards. Family was all you could count on, big risks weren’t taken lightly, and outward success—a good job, a nice house—never made you feel ambivalent because failure and want were all around you, just a layoff or a shooting away. Michelle never worried about selling out, because growing up on the South Side meant you were always, at some level, an outsider. In her mind, the roadblocks to making it were plenty clear; you didn’t have to go looking for them.

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Jan 13, 2021

She took my face in her hands. “Have you ever noticed that if there’s a hard way and an easy way, you choose the hard way every time? Why do you think that is?” We both laughed.
===
AFTER SEVERAL YEARS of dating, Michelle and I were married at Trinity United Church of Christ on October 3, 1992, with more than three hundred of our friends, colleagues, and family members crammed happily into the pews.
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Driving home in the twilight, Michelle and I sometimes talked about having kids of our own—what they might be like, or how many, and what about a dog?—and imagined all the things we’d do together as a family. A normal life. A productive, happy life. It should have been enough.
===
“Make sure Michelle’s all right with it,” she said. “Not that I’m the marriage expert. And don’t you dare use me as an excuse not to do it. I’ve got enough to deal with without feeling like everybody’s putting their lives on hold. It’s morbid, understand?”

j
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Jan 13, 2021

Around six a.m. on the Fourth of July, Michelle poked me and said it was time to go to the hospital. I fumbled around and gathered the bag I’d set by the door, and just seven hours later was introduced to Malia Ann Obama, eight pounds and fifteen ounces of perfection.
===
At the end of each night, after feeding and bath time and story time and cleaning up the apartment and trying to keep track of whether she’d picked up the dry cleaning and making a note to herself to schedule an appointment with the pediatrician, she would often fall into an empty bed, knowing the whole cycle would start all over again in a few short hours while her husband was off doing “important things.” We began arguing more, usually late at night when the two of us were thoroughly drained. “This isn’t what I signed up for, Barack,” Michelle said at one point. “I feel like I’m doing it all by myself.”

j
jimg2000
Jan 13, 2021

Magic beans P1 of 2:

“If I win, hon,” I said, “it will draw national attention. I’ll be the only African American in the Senate. With a higher profile, I can write another book, and it’ll sell a lot of copies, and that will cover the added expenses.” Michelle let out a sharp laugh. I’d made some money on my first book, but nothing close to what it would take to pay for the expenses I was now talking about incurring. As my wife saw it—as most people would see it, I imagine—an unwritten book was hardly a financial plan. “In other words,” she said, “you’ve got some magic beans in your pocket. That’s what you’re telling me. You have some magic beans, and you’re going to plant them, and overnight a huge beanstalk is going to grow high into the sky, and you’ll climb up the beanstalk, kill the giant who lives in the clouds, and then bring home a goose that lays golden eggs. Is that it?” “Something like that,” I said.

j
jimg2000
Jan 13, 2021

Magic beans P2 of 2:

Michelle shook her head and looked out the window. We both knew what I was asking for. Another disruption. Another gamble. Another step in the direction of something I wanted and she truly didn’t. “This is it, Barack,” Michelle said. “One last time. But don’t expect me to do any campaigning. In fact, you shouldn’t even count on my vote.”
===
In the way people described their families or their jobs. In their modesty and their hospitality. In their enthusiasm for high school basketball. In the food they served, the fried chicken and baked beans and Jell-O molds. In them, I heard echoes of my grandparents, my mother, Michelle’s mom and dad. Same values. Same hopes and dreams.

j
jimg2000
Jan 13, 2021

I relished wriggling Malia into her first ballet tights or grasping her hand as we walked to the park; watching baby Sasha laugh and laugh as I nibbled her feet; listening to Michelle’s breath slow, her head resting against my shoulder, as she drifted off to sleep in the middle of an old movie.
===
Axe had us shoot two television ads: The first had me speaking directly to the camera, ending with the tagline “Yes we can.” (I thought this was corny, but Axe immediately appealed to a higher power, showing it to Michelle, who deemed it “not corny at all.”)
===
Michelle backstage, beautiful in white, squeezing my hand, gazing lovingly into my eyes, and telling me “Just don’t screw it up, buddy!” The two of us cracking up, being silly, when our love was always best, and then the introduction by the senior senator from Illinois, Dick Durbin, “Let me tell you about this Barack Obama…”

j
jimg2000
Jan 13, 2021

Michelle came out of the bedroom in a shimmery formal dress. “You look so pretty, Mommy,” Sasha said. Michelle did a twirl for the girls. “Okay, you guys behave yourselves,” I said, kissing them before saying goodbye to Michelle’s mother, who was babysitting that night. We were headed down the hall toward the elevator when suddenly Michelle stopped. “Forget something?” I asked. She looked at me and shook her head, incredulous. “I can’t believe you actually pulled this whole thing off. The campaign. The book. All of it.” I nodded and kissed her forehead. “Magic beans, baby. Magic beans.”

j
jimg2000
Jan 13, 2021

“And you need to disguise your voice,” Malia added. “People recognize it. You have to talk with a higher voice. And faster.” “Daddy talks so slow,” Sasha said. “Come on, Daddy,” Malia said. “Try it.” She shifted into the highest-pitched, fastest voice she could muster, saying, “Hi! I’m Johnny McJohn John!” Unable to contain himself, Mike burst out laughing. Later, when we got home, Malia proudly explained her scheme to Michelle, who patted her on the head. “That’s a great idea, honey,” she said, “but the only way for Daddy to disguise himself is if he has an operation to pin back his ears.”

j
jimg2000
Jan 13, 2021

Our evenings and weekends appeared normal so long as Malia and Sasha were swirling about, but I felt the tension whenever Michelle and I were alone. Finally, one night after the girls were asleep, I came into the den where she was watching TV and muted the sound. “You know I didn’t plan any of this,” I said, sitting down next to her on the couch. Michelle stared at the silent screen. “I know,” she said. “I realize we’ve barely had time to catch our breath. And until a few months ago, the idea of me running seemed crazy.” “Yep.” “But given everything that’s happened, I feel like we have to give the idea a serious look. I’ve asked the team to put together a presentation. What a campaign schedule would look like. Whether we could win. How it might affect the family. I mean, if we were ever going to do this—”

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Jan 13, 2021

Michelle cut me off, her voice choked with emotion. “Did you say we?” she said. “You mean you, Barack. Not we. This is your thing. I’ve supported you the whole time, because I believe in you, even though I hate politics. I hate the way it exposes our family. You know that. And now, finally, we have some stability…even if it’s still not normal, not the way I’d choose for us to live…and now you tell me you’re going to run for president?” I reached for her hand. “I didn’t say I am running, honey. I just said we can’t dismiss the possibility. But I can only consider it if you’re on board.” I paused, seeing that none of her anger was dissipating. “If you don’t think we should, then we won’t. Simple as that. You get the final say.”

j
jimg2000
Jan 13, 2021

Michelle lifted her eyebrows as if to suggest she didn’t believe me. “If that’s really true, then the answer is no,” she said. “I don’t want you to run for president, at least not now.” She gave me a hard look and got up from the couch. “God, Barack…When is it going to be enough?” Before I could answer, she’d gone into the bedroom and closed the door. How could I blame her for feeling this way? By even suggesting the possibility of a run, by involving my staff before I’d asked for her blessing, I had put her in an impossible spot. For years now, I’d asked Michelle for fortitude and forbearance when it came to my political endeavors, and she’d given it—reluctantly but with love. And then each time I’d come back again, asking for more.

j
jimg2000
Jan 13, 2021

Why would I put her through this? Was it just vanity? Or perhaps something darker—a raw hunger, a blind ambition wrapped in the gauzy language of service? Or was I still trying to prove myself worthy to a father who had abandoned me, live up to my mother’s starry-eyed expectations of her only son, and resolve whatever self-doubt remained from being born a child of mixed race? “It’s like you have a hole to fill,” Michelle had told me early in our marriage, after a stretch in which she’d watched me work myself to near exhaustion. “That’s why you can’t slow down.”

j
jimg2000
Jan 13, 2021

“Well, honey,” she said finally, “that was a pretty good answer.” P1 of 2:

“You’ve said there are a lot of other Democrats who are capable of winning an election and being president. You’ve told me the only reason for you to run is if you could provide something that the others can’t. Otherwise it’s not worth it. Right?” I nodded. “So my question is why you, Barack? Why do you need to be president?” We looked at each other across the table. For a moment, it was as if we were alone in the room. My mind flipped back to the moment seventeen years earlier when we first met, me arriving late to her office, a little damp from the rain, Michelle rising up from her desk, so lovely and self-possessed in a lawyerly blouse and skirt, and the easy banter that followed. I had seen in those round, dark eyes of hers a vulnerability that I knew she rarely let show. I knew even then that she was special, that I would need to know her, that this was a woman I could love.

j
jimg2000
Jan 13, 2021

... good answer.” P2 of 2:

How lucky I had been, I thought. “Barack?” I shook myself out of the reverie. “Right,” I said. “Why me?” I mentioned several of the reasons we’d talked about before. That I might be able to spark a new kind of politics, or get a new generation to participate, or bridge the divisions in the country better than other candidates could. “But who knows?” I said, looking around the table. “There’s no guarantee we can pull it off. Here’s one thing I know for sure, though. I know that the day I raise my right hand and take the oath to be president of the United States, the world will start looking at America differently. I know that kids all around this country—Black kids, Hispanic kids, kids who don’t fit in—they’ll see themselves differently, too, their horizons lifted, their possibilities expanded. And that alone…that would be worth it.”

Michelle stared at me for what felt like an eternity. “Well, honey,” she said finally, “that was a pretty good answer.”

j
jimg2000
Jan 13, 2021

I’d repeat this three or four times, with a cold sandwich or a salad wedged in there somewhere, before finally staggering into another motel around nine p.m., trying to catch Michelle and the girls by phone before they went to bed, before reading the next day’s briefing materials, the binder gradually slipping out of my hands as exhaustion knocked me out.
===
Michelle’s openness and candor had proven to be an asset; she was a natural on the stump. The Iowa team came to call her “the Closer,” because of how many people signed up once they’d heard her speak.
===
My photo regularly showed up in the pages of Ebony and Jet. Every Black woman of a certain age told me I reminded her of her son. And the love for Michelle was at a whole other level. With her professional credentials, sister-friend demeanor, and no-nonsense devotion to motherhood, she seemed to distill what so many Black families worked toward and hoped for their children.

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jimg2000
Jan 13, 2021

My in-laws fully embodied the tastes and aspirations we tend to claim as uniquely American, and I didn’t know anyone more mainstream than Michelle, whose favorite meal was a burger and fries, who liked to watch reruns of The Andy Griffith Show, and who relished any chance to pass a Saturday afternoon shopping at the mall. And yet, at least according to some commentators, Michelle was…different, not First Lady material. She seemed “angry,” they said. One Fox News segment described her as “Obama’s Baby Mama.” It wasn’t just conservative media either.
===
Lying in bed later, unable to sleep, I took a silent inventory. I thought about Michelle, who had put up with my absences, held down the home front, and overridden her reticence about politics to become effective and fearless on the stump.

j
jimg2000
Jan 13, 2021

My team and I largely deserved the blame; we’d put Michelle on the road without the speechwriting, prep sessions, and briefers that I had at all times, the infrastructure that kept me organized and on point. It was like sending a civilian into live fire without a flak jacket. ... But I was less concerned about what all this meant for the campaign than I was pained by seeing how much it hurt Michelle; how it caused my strong, intelligent, and beautiful wife to doubt herself. Following the misstep in Wisconsin, she reminded me that she’d never had a desire to be in the spotlight and said that if her presence on the campaign trail hurt more than it helped, she would just as soon stay home. I assured her that the campaign would provide her better support, insisting that she was a far more compelling figure to voters than I would ever be. But nothing I said seemed to make her feel better.

j
jimg2000
Jan 13, 2021

Watching the sun go down over the Pacific with my arms wrapped around Michelle, just listening to the wind and rustling palms—worth it. Seeing Toot hunched over on her living room couch, barely able to raise her head but still smiling with quiet satisfaction as her great-granddaughters laughed and played on the floor, and then feeling her mottled, blue-veined hand squeeze mine for perhaps the last time. A precious sacrament.
===
I was surprised when, in bed later that night, she turned to me and said, “You’re going to win, aren’t you?” “A lot can still happen…but yeah. There’s a pretty good chance I will.” I looked at my wife. Her face was pensive, as if she were working out a puzzle in her mind. Finally she nodded to herself and returned my gaze. “You’re going to win,” she said softly. She kissed me on the cheek, turned off the bedside lamp, and pulled the covers over her shoulders.

j
jimg2000
Jan 13, 2021

... Michelle appeared on the television screen, luminescent in an aquamarine dress, to deliver the convention’s opening night address. I had deliberately avoided reading Michelle’s speech beforehand, not wanting to meddle in the process or add to the pressure. Having seen her on the campaign trail, I had no doubt she’d be good. But listening to Michelle tell her story that night—seeing her talk about her mom and dad, the sacrifices they’d made and the values they’d passed on; hearing her trace her unlikely journey and describe her hope for our daughters; having this woman who had shouldered so much vouch for the fact that I’d always been true to my family and to my convictions; seeing the convention hall audience, the network anchors, and the people sitting next to me transfixed—well, I couldn’t have been prouder. Contrary to what some commentators said at the time, my wife didn’t “find” her voice that night. A national audience finally had a chance to hear that voice unfiltered.

j
jimg2000
Jan 13, 2021

My mother-in-law, in particular, made no pretense of being relaxed; through the din, I noticed her sitting on the couch, her eyes fixed on the television, her expression one of disbelief. I tried to imagine what she must be thinking, having grown up just a few miles away during a time when there were ... a time when the thought of a Black U.S. president would have seemed as far-fetched as a pig taking flight. I took a seat next to her on the couch. “You okay?” I asked. Marian shrugged and kept staring at the television. She said, “This is kind of too much.” “I know.” I took her hand and squeezed it, the two of us sitting in companionable silence for a few minutes. Then suddenly a shot of my face flashed up on the TV screen and ABC News announced that I would be the forty-fourth president of the United States. The room erupted. Shouts could be heard up and down the hall. Michelle and I kissed and she pulled back gently to give me the once-over as she laughed and shook her head.

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jimg2000
Jan 13, 2021

Over the course of the campaign, I’d watched Michelle adapt to our new circumstances with unerring grace—charming voters, nailing interviews, perfecting a style that showed her to be both chic and accessible. It was less a transformation than an amplification, her essential “Miche-ness” burnished to a high shine. But for all her growing comfort with being in the public eye, behind the scenes Michelle was desperate to carve out some zone of normalcy for our family, a place beyond the distorting reach of politics and fame. In the weeks after the election, this meant throwing herself into the tasks any couple might go through when having to relocate for a new job. With typical efficiency, she sorted. She packed. She closed accounts, made sure our mail would get forwarded, and helped the University of Chicago Medical Center plan for her replacement. Her overriding focus, though, was on our daughters.

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jimg2000
Jan 13, 2021

But as had been true during so much of the last ten years, the day-to-day burden of parenting rested largely on Michelle. And as she watched how—before I had even assumed office—the vortex of work pulled me in, as she saw her own career sidelined, her tight-knit circle of friends soon to be hundreds of miles away as she made her way in a city where so many people’s motives were necessarily suspect, the prospect of loneliness settled on her like a cloud.
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When Michelle came back from a photo shoot or a black-tie dinner, where her every move had been monitored or her hairstyle scrutinized by the press, she could shed her designer dress, throw on a pair of jeans and a T-shirt, and know that her mom was upstairs in her suite on the top floor of the White House, always willing to sit and watch TV with her and talk about the girls or folks back home—or about nothing in particular.

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jimg2000
Jan 13, 2021

She sought advice from Hillary and from Laura Bush on how to insulate them from the press and grilled the Secret Service on ways to avoid having the girls’ security detail disrupt playdates and soccer games. She familiarized herself with the operations of the White House residence and made sure the furniture in the girls’ bedrooms wouldn’t look like something out of Monticello. It’s not as if I didn’t share Michelle’s stress. Malia and, especially, Sasha were so young in 2008, all pigtails and braids, missing teeth and round cheeks. How would the White House shape their childhoods? Would it isolate them? Make them moody or entitled? At night, I would listen intently as Michelle gave me the latest intel she’d gathered, then offer my thoughts on this or that issue that was nagging her, providing her with assurances that a sullen remark or small piece of mischief from either of the girls didn’t indicate the early effects of their suddenly topsy-turvy world.

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jimg2000
Jan 13, 2021

“We just want to make sure you’re treated like every other president,” Von explained. “That’s right,” Buddy said. “See, you and the First Lady don’t really know what this means to us, Mr. President. Having you here…” He shook his head. “You just don’t know.”
===
Other than the five minutes I’d spent walking across the hall to tuck in the girls and kiss Michelle good night, I’d been planted in my chair since dinnertime, the same way I was just about every night of the week. For me, these were often the quietest and most productive hours of the day, a time when I could catch up on work and prepare myself for whatever was coming next, poring over the stacks of material my staff secretary sent up to the residence for my review. The latest economic data. Decision memos. Informational memos. Intelligence briefings. Legislative proposals. Drafts of speeches. Press conference talking points.


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