tv AC 360 Special History Made The Legacy of Michelle Obama CNN January 14, 2017 7:00pm-8:01pm PST
white house with dignity, grace and good humor. he ran an administration that was largely scandal-free. and he did it all the while under a microscope because he looked different. in a sense, america made a big bet in electing barack obama as its first african-american president. and with respect to his personal character and intellect, most of the country believes it was a bet that paid off. i'm fareed zakaria. thanks for joining us. the following is a cnn special report. >> there was nothing in my life that said i should be sanding
here. >> her journey is nothing less than remarkable. first lady michelle obama, once a reluctant campaigner. >> truth is most americans don't opt into this. >> target onto campaign trail. >> it made me wonder just how are people seeing me? >> now a voice for the generations. >> measure of any society is how it treats its women and girls. >> mom and chief turned political dynamo. >> our motto is when they go low, we go high. >> tonight a revealing look at first lady michelle obama, she's more than the first african-american first lady, today she's a global icon and a political powerhouse. i'm randi kaye and this is a cnn
special report. "history made: the legacy of michelle obama." ♪ january 17, 1964, on the south side of chicago, a future first lady is born. michelle, lavonne, robinson grew up in the south shore. a working class neighborhood. her older brother craig remembers it well. >> we didn't know how poor we were. so it was terrific. >> her mother, marian robinson volunteered at school so she could keep a close eye on her children. her father, frasier robinson, worked for the city's water department. in his early 30s, he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. >> we watched a man who was disabled get up and go to work every day. >> he was our provider. he was our champion, our hero. but, as he got sicker, it got harder for him to walk. took him longer to get dressed
in the morning. you know, but if he was in pain, he never let on. he never stopped smiling and laughing. >> he conducted himself with so much dignity and so much purpose and was so committed to his family and so committed to his kids that he left that family with something very deep they seemed to come back to again and again. >> her father instilled in her a sense of hard work and commitment. the young michelle robinson was a good student who played piano and liked to write short stories. at whitney young magnet school, she was class treasurer, her brothers recalled her strong will. >> she bossed you around? >> whatever game she wanted to play we played. >> every night they had dinner as a family and often went to drive-in movies. >> they lived in a small bungalow, but there was an
idyllic quality to the way she describes her family, the warmth of her parents, the stability she felt coming from them, even though they didn't have a lot of means, they had an immense belief in education and its power. >> when her brother got into princeton university, the future first lady was determined to attend the same ivy league school. >> the story she tells, if craig can get in there then i can and she applied and got in. and you're laughing, but that's how she thinks. >> at princeton, she majored in sociology with a focus in african-american studies. she went on to harvard law school. then in 1988 took a job with sidley austin law firm in chicago. that is where she would meet the man who would change her life. to hear her tell it, the one with the funny-sounding name. >> i did what a lot of people do
when they hear about barack obama. i thought, what kind of name is barack obama? >> she was to mentor him at the law firm, but he was late on his first day and hardly made a good impression. still, when barack obama didn't see a ring on her finger, he asked her out. >> first of all, she thought it was inappropriate to have any inner office dating, even though i was only there for the summer. >> michelle robinson eventually agreed to go out with him. >> i said okay. we'll go out on a date, but we won't call it a date, i'll spend the day with you. >> at that point i thought, okay i think i've got something going. >> by the end of that date, it was over. i was sold. >> but she still had another test barack obama needed to pass. >> my sister had heard my dad and i talking about how you can
tell a guy's true character when you take him out on the basketball court. so she asked me to take him to go play. had a gauntlet for the guy to run through. >> so when the game was over, what did you report back to your sister? >> i told my sister, this guy's terrific. >> barack and michelle obama married in 1992. her father had died the year before. >> he never lived to see the things that the obamas would go on to do. but he's kind of the family's lode star. >> he is the hole in my heart. his loss is my scar. but let me tell you something. his memory drives me forward every single day of my life. every day i work to make him proud. >> the couple settled in chicago, where in 1998, michelle obama gave birth to their first daughter, malia.
sasha would arrive a few years later. mrs. obama eventually left corporate law and landed a job at the university of chicago hospitals. she would soon leave her high-powered job behind. >> do you believe in what this country can be? >> by now, her husband barack obama was senator barack obama, and he had his sights set on the white house. >> michelle gave up a big career, but there is nothing to compete with this historic opportunity for those who sense that they can be a part of of history. >> she is the love of my life, the rock of our household. >> when you strip away princeton and harvard and all those wonderful degrees and accomplishments, deep down, i'm just a girl who grew up in the south side of chicago. >> candid and confident, qualities instilled in her by her parents went a long way have
-- with voters on the campaign trail. >> because every time in my life, when i tried to do something, there were people around telling me why i couldn't. >> and mrs. obama was a bridge to african american women, in ways like no one else who came before her. >> my question to you all is, can we do this? >> even early in her husband's political career, her style earned her the nickname, "the closer." >> can we do this? [ crowd chants yes we can ] >> she's a closer. she's going to stand up there and get right down to the brass tacks of what's happening in the country and what we need to do, and let's get on with it. >> her brother always expected big things from her, just not this. >> you know, astronaut maybe or first woman to swim around the world or something completely out of the ordinary. but first lady? that would have been at the
bottom of my list. >> yet there she was, election night 2008. this woman who'd grown up poor and whose ancestors were slaves celebrating her husband's victory and her future as first lady. >> i looked at him, and i said you are the 44th president of the united states of america. wow, what a country we live in. >> when you saw michelle obama walk out on that stage in grant park in chicago, how did you feel? >> she looked like she belonged there. and that's how i felt. i felt like i belong here. and all my ancestors belonged here. everyone that ever dreamed about her was validated in that moment. >> they went from a relatively normal middle class family living in a small apartment in
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the primary focus for the first year will be making sure that the kids make it through the transition. >> presidents and their wives tend to neglect their children, frankly because they're so so obsessed and obsessed with the long road to get elected that the children are prone to suffer, and this is not the case with the obama children. >> she wanted her children to still be able to live their lives, and i think what the obamas found out is that's not entirely possible. they're very young, starting a new school. she really just wanted to take them there in the mornings. for her to take the kids to school meant there had to be cars, there had to be security, there was traffic issues. >> instead, sasha and malia, just 7 and 10, went off to school with secret service agents and mrs. obama's mother. >> raising our girls in the white house with my mom, uh, not going to do this. is a beautiful experience.
>> they didn't know any of this before they moved to the white house. they had never lived a life like this. what about something like dance performance, you know, or a basketball game at the girls' school. would the president and first lady be allowed to attend? >> the theme for this year's event is ready, set, what? go! >> committed to creating a sense of normalcy, mrs. obama had a talk with the white house staff. >> i said, you know, we're going to have to set up some boundaries, because they're going to need to be able to make their beds. >> those early years in the white house were a real adjustment for michelle. she had to start over in many ways, and she had to do it under the watchful eye of the world. and that's a lot of pressure. >> each first lady redefines the role, and she defined it as mom in chief. and she went for issues that were not controversial. >> as malia and sasha settled
in, mrs. obama began to focus on not just what was best for her own girls but what was best for the nation's children. >> you can lift up the grass with the pitchforks, go, go, go. >> on 2009, the first day of spring, the first lady broke ground on the white house garden, located on the south lawn, the garden was designed to get kids more interested in vegetables and healthy eating. >> let's hear it for fruits! yeah! what, did i hear a boo? [ laughter ] >> mrs. obama took healthy eating a step further in 2010, launching her hugely popular "let's move" campaign, to help curb childhood obesity. >> clearly we're determined to take on one of the most serious threats to their future. and that's the epidemic of childhood obesity today. >> let's move, let's move.
>> she encouraged kids to be more physically active, running, dancing and poking fun at herself to make the point. >> let's move is going to take families out of their isolation and give them the nationwide support that they need. >> turn up for what? ♪ i don't want to close my eyes ♪ ♪ i don't want to fall asleep >> she also danced with big bird. ♪ ellen and jimmy fallon, too. ♪ >> we want to end the epidemic in a generation. we're really aiming at children born today, because if we begin shaping habits and the conversation that will change the habits of young people today. >> still, not everyone was impressed. >> who should be making the decisions about what we eat?
school choice. should it be government or parents? it should be parents. >> in a show of defiance, republican sarah palin brought sugar cookies to a school fundraiser to protest what she called a nanny state and nit-picking. >> we're living in such a polarizing time that if she had said the sky is blue, they would have said, no. it's red. >> we have some girl scouts who are here. woo for the girl scouts. >> but the criticism didn't slow down michelle obama's commitment to kids. in 2014 her "reach higher" initiative encouraged young people to go to college, and she launched "let girls learn", a program to let girls around the world stay in school. >> one of these girls could have the potential to cure cancer or start a business that transforms
an industry or become the next prime minister who inspires her country. but if she never sets foot in a classroom, chances are she will never discover or fulfill that potential. >> she understood that if humanity is going to survive, it's going to be in the hands of women. >> which may be why she joined the effort to bring home more than 200 nigerian school girls kidnapped by boko haram. >> in these girls we see our daughters, their hopes and dreams, and we can only imagine the anguish their parents are feeling right now. >> she would identify with those kids' struggles. her message again and again was look at me. i wasn't born to a family with any great wealth or education. there was no math in my life that said i would become first lady of the united states and yet i did it. >> i loved getting as, i liked
being smart. i thought being smart was cooler than anything in the world, and you, too, with these same values can control your own destiny. you, too, can pave the way. you are the women who will build the world as it should be. you're going to write the next chapter in history. >> if you're a parent, you are happy that michelle obama exists. you're trying to raise young women, you are happy that michelle obama exists. because she's tough, she's strong, she's beautiful. she said your homework is more important than your boyfriend. that's from the first lady, thank you, michelle. >> she did it all without losing sight of those two very special girls who called the white house home for the last eight years. >> and i come here as a mom, as a mom whose girls are the heart of my heart and the center of my world. they're the first things i think about when i wake up in the morning and the last thing i think about before i go to bed at night. >> michelle obama found her
passion at 1600 pennsylvania avenue, but getting there was a struggle, tinged with personal attacks and racist remarks. >> it knocked me back a bit, it made me wonder, just how are people seeing me? or you might remember the on-stage celebratory fist bump between me and my husband, one that was referred to as a terrorist fist jab. and over the years, folks have used plenty of interesting words to describe me. one said i exhibited a little bit of uppityism, another noted i was one of my husband's cronies of color. cable news charmingly referred to me as obama's baby mama. >> coming up, how she went high when they went low.
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♪ >> make sure she caucuses for barack obama. >> from the outset, michelle obama was a reluctant campaigner. >> it took a lot of dreaming for me to be standing right here, see, because i didn't want to do that. this thing, it's not a secret. when barak approached me about running, my first reaction was no, hmm, no, not a good idea. >> well, i think it's fair to say michelle was a reluctant conscript to politics, and she was concerned about the impact on the family, and there was a lot of discussion about what the demands would be on her, what was expected of the children, what it would be like to have a member of the family running for president.
>> despite her disinclination, michelle obama would turn out to be the rock behind the man many called a rock star candidate. >> and i would not be standing here tonight without the unyielding support of my best friend for the last 16 years, the rock of our family, the love of my life. the nation's next first lady, michelle obama. >> when this that's all black woman entered these iowa living rooms early in the campaign, people took to her instantly. that michelle obama spark was right there. on the other hand, she also became criticized pretty early on. she was kind of winging it on the campaign trail. >> she just threw the rule book out, i'm going to be me. >> she wasn't mrs. obama. she was michelle obama. >> in 2007, michelle obama didn't mince words on the trail,
saying this about her husband. >> he still has trouble putting the bread up and putting his socks actually in the dirty clothes, and he still doesn't do a better job than our 5-year-old daughter sasha at making his bed. so you have to forgive me if i'm a little stunned by this whole barack obama thing. >> thank you, i love you. >> when people are acting like her husband is some political messiah, she knew that wasn't true. >> by and large, women totally loved it. because we all talk like that. we all make jokes about our husbands, and it is so familiar and comfortable that she could warm up a crowd easily, by making those kinds of jokes. >> that same year, mrs. obama told glamour magazine that the daughters don't want to climb into their parents' bed because their dad is quote, too snory and too stinky.
>> i loved hearing her sass and hearing her say in the mornings he wasn't at his very best. it was humanizing. >> still, michelle obama was lampooned and accused of being an angry black woman. she was targeted with racist attacks after comments she made in wisconsin. >> for the first time in my adult lifetime, i'm really proud of my country, and not just because barack has done well, but because i think people are hungry for change. >> those kinds of moments gave you heartburn. by the same token, it became clear to me very quickly, that we have failed her, because we threw her out there without adequate staffing, without adequate preparation. >> she was so afraid that she had hurt her husband's candidacy. so she actually took herself off the campaign trail for a while in 2008. >> she didn't like being thrown into situations where things might go wrong for reasons she couldn't anticipate.
>> critics questioned her patriotism, called her uppity, and there were nasty racial slurs. all of it hurt. so back on the trail, mrs. obama began choosing her words more carefully. >> what i vowed is that i want to be as me as i can be. >> but certainly you've had to bite your tongue. >> well, yeah, because we have a habit of just characterizing people. it's easy to define michelle obama as the feisty sarcastic, then you become that caricature. >> shes goes from being this dazzlingly honest even blunt lawyer making original, interesting arguments, she kinds edits herself back to being the mom in chief. this tamer, more familiar role.
>> i think michelle obama's biggest flaw in the beginning was to be an individual. >> feeding off fear some had of the obamas, "the new yorker" magazine published this satirical portrayal of mrs. obama as an angry militant, sporting an afro in fatigues and carrying a weapon, fist bumping mr. obama. wearing a turban. >> you might remember the celebratory fist bump that was referred to as a terrorist fist jab. and over the years, folks have used plenty of interesting words to describe me. one said i exhibited a little bit of uppityism. another noted that i was one of my husband's cronies of color. cable news charmingly referred to me as obama's baby mama. >> she was a direct attack on a power structure that everyone's been very comfortable with for a
very long time. and so you must be militant if you are an independent black woman. you must be a radical if you went to princeton. >> not one to be easily discouraged, michelle obama found a way to rise above it. >> i realized that if i wanted to keep my sanity and not let others define me, there was only one thing i could do. and that was to have faith in god's plan for me. [cheers and applause] i have to ignore all of the noise and be true to myself, and the rest would work itself out. i had to answer some basic questions for myself. who am i? no, really, who am i? what do i care about? >> and that attitude is what helped guide the first lady forward. >> that same strength that
shocked people and even scared some people, people became infatuated with and they became in love with, and you know what, they said, this is cool, to have like a home girl who's like the first lady. she's like the first home girl lady. like this is awesome. ♪ >> first lady and fashion icon. michelle obama's style sets trends around world. >> michelle obama gave a lot of women permission to be who they say they are. and if today you are a woman that wears a cardigan and tomorrow you're a woman that wears a sheath dress, you are allowed. the first lady said so. in birds eye protein blends. ok. they're delicious side dishes with the protein of beans, whole grains... ...and veggies! mmm, good. my work here is dooooone!
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>> history. she's not afraid of clothes, strong color, silhouettes. long before she became the fashion icon she is today, mrs. obama favored j. crew. >> let me ask you about your wardrobe, i'm guessing about $60,000? $60,000, $70,000 for that outfit? >> actually, this is a j. crew ensemble. >> wow. >> it felt like that's what working mom from chicago would do. i mean, it was sort of every woman in her style. but i think she sort of moved away from that a little bit as the years progressed. >> it's hard, you know? i'm kind of a tomboy jock at heart, but i like to look nice. >> she represented this diversity of voices from j. crew to jason wu.
>> jason wu designed the one shouldered ivory chiffon dress mrs. obama wore to the first inaugural ball. >> we were all like ah. look at our first lady! it was exciting. it was real. that's our first lady. look at her. >> i'll never forget the moment that i slipped on this beautiful gown. i remember how just luscious i felt as the president and i were announced onto the stage for the first of many dances. >> earlier, mrs. obama walked the inauguration day parade route in this lime green dress from cuban-american designer, isabel toledo. >> her first runway and she chose to wear a woman of color in couture. when you knew everyone was sending dresses. from calvin klein to donna karan.
>> what does it say about her? >> it says that she has agency. that drez says in no uncertain terms that i say how i present myself, that this is my choice. >> she wasn't going to the fully-vetted design houses that people knew and sort of already approved. >> designers jason wu and isabel toledo had come to the united states as immigrants. children. they were among designers michelle obama propelled to fashion stardom. later mrs. obama also turned to more well-known designers, wearing this donatella versace dress. to state dinner. >> it's quintessential and versace because of the material and the slink of it. it was jokingly referred to as sort of a drop the mic dress.
>> the first lady had worn a tracy reese dress to the 2012 democratic national convention. but her gray nail polish made the biggest splash. >> the nail polish that launched a thousand, million manicures. >> and when michelle obama got bangs, it blew up. >> now first of all, i love michelle obama. and to address the most significant event of this weekend, i love her bangs. she looks good. she always looks good. >> i mean, the amount of attention even the president joked that the bangs were a two-day news story. >> all right. >> her fashion sense only emphasized her focus on health and fitness. this time her own.
>> we see these big, long, brown elegant arms that look like they can hold things. they can hold two girls. they can hold this white house. they can hold this man, and you can't deny it. seeing her arms was the ability to see that she can be both strong and graceful. michelle's commitment to fitness was pretty powerful. >> she really -- >> she showed her body. >> how many pushups can you do? because i like to do a pushup. >> you know, i don't know. i can do some. can you? >> i can do some. i was just wondering if you could do more pushups than i could do. >> by the time mrs. obama turned 50 in the white house, she had cemented her role as an
ultrafit fashion icon, an inspiration to women everywhere. >> i think all of american women were like, oh, okay. let me step my game up, you know, this is what it can look like. >> she exuded confidence. style watchers and fashion magazines labeled her sexy, but there was something deeper behind her style choices. >> she felt a responsibility, first of all, to show that you do not have to be blond and blue eyed and a size 4 to be gorgeous. she was extremely conscious of the negative stereotypes of african-american women. >> you know, the narrative around what do black girls look like, michelle cracked that wide open. she's a black woman, it's important because not only were brown women not so, young -- celebrated, women who were clearly identifiably black were
not considered beautiful, something healed with particularly black women never held up to be the most beautiful, never the ones leading hollywood, never the ones on covers of magazines. >> she's total package. she hits every check mark. she's smart, she's funny, she's real, she's beautiful. >> and she's bold. the woman who had relished the role of mom in chief was ready to go back on the campaign trail and make her political voice heard. >> it was really a sign of a first lady who finally felt confident to say exactly what was on her mind and to issue a kind of critique that we have not heard from her in a long time. >> a move that would cement her legacy. >> don't let anyone ever tell you that this country isn't great, that somehow we need to make it great again, because this right now is the greatest country on earth.
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and when crisis hits, we don't turn against each other. no we listen to each other, we lean on each other, because we are always stronger together. >> michelle obama has become probably the most effective communicator on earth. when she gives a speech, it's breath taking. she does stuff on the microphone i didn't know you could do. >> by 2016 michelle obama had stopped watching her words, and in doing so, made her voice heard. >> they seem to view our diversity as a threat to be contained rather than as a resource to be tapped. they tell us to be afraid of those who are different, to be suspicious of those with whom we
disagree. they act as if anger and intolerance should be our default state rather than optimism and openness. >> what you see later in the presidency is her being honest about her views in big new ambitious way. it had the feeling of michelle obama saying in public what she said in private which i think was not always true. >> she plugged into something so deep and transformative for her, it became transformative for millions of americans. >> her passion was her platform. she spoke openly about civil rights and issues of racism. >> no longer can we be barred from university or hotel or arrested for sitting at front of the bus or forced to use a separate bathroom or water fountain because of the color of our skin. >> it shows a level of courage if you're african-american person in public life, a lot of
people tell you, lay off the black stuff, makes people uncomfortable, don't talk about civil rights, don't mention slavery. put that behind you. let's look forward. and most people say, okay, you're right. she says no. >> i wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves and i've watched my daughters, two beautiful intelligent black young women playing with their dogs on the white house lawn. >> she really tried to send a message of opportunity, not just for african-americans but people of all different backgrounds. i think she wanted to stand for the idea that, you know, any woman in this country can grow up to be first lady of the united states. >> there is no boy at this age that is cute enough or interesting enough to stop you
from getting your education. look, if i had worried about who liked me and who thought i was cute when i was your age, i wouldn't be married to the president of the united states. >> i had people who told me i was reaching too high, the schools i was applying to were too much for me. what you have to remember is that you are competent and capable and able to do it. >> i think michelle obama was more than hope, she was proof. we believe now, we believe it's possible. >> she became a role model for women worldwide. >> she made headlines around the world for this impassioned speech delivered after then-nominee donald trump was heard on tape bragging about
groepg women. >> and i have to tell you that i can't stop thinking about this. it has shaken me to my core in a way that i couldn't have predicted. this wasn't just locker room banter, this is not normal. this is not politics as usual. [ cheers and applause ] >> this is disgraceful, it is intolerable. >> she was the most profound feminist without being labeled that because she stood up for girls and she stood up for women when they were being bullied from the most powerful platform in the world. >> she spoke for so many women when she said i feel this in my core, this is unacceptable. she didn't mince words, wasn't politically correct, she spoke
with genuine passion and outrage. >> because remember this, when they go low, we go. >> high. >> yes we do. >> michelle obama slayed a dragon for girls and for women. forever. and that's -- that's what you felt like your mom had come to school and gotten the bully and said you -- not my girls. the voice she gave to women and girls, that's her legacy. >> if you're really looking at michelle obama's legacy, the thing that rises to the top because it is so powerful is what it meant for everybody, also for african-americans, to see her as first lady. that she could articulate that and use it to spread a message of opportunity and empowerment for people was so powerful. >> you have a whole generation
of young girls around the world. >> hola. >> who saw a beautiful strong black woman in the white house doing great and helping everybody. and that's going to ripple out for generations. critics, haters will be long forgotten, michelle obama will never be forgotten. >> i'm so happy to be here. >> happy to have you. >> look at him right there. that's me. >> i think her legacy will be number one that she was the first african-american first lady. that's a huge and historic legacy. ♪ but beyond that, she leaves the white house as the strongest voice for women's rights, for women's dignity, a right that goes beyond race and is fundamental to our society.
>> in another way her legacy will be the dignity with which she fulfilled her obligations as first lady and the example that she set as someone who lived in that rarefied air and yet was very much a normal mom with the same concerns, looking after her kids, looking after the family, and holding it together against all the pressures associated with the presidency. >> also part of her legacy, the first lady's fight to end childhood obesity. >> she did such a huge service for parents and for kids, and it had a huge impact. >> i think that more is expected from her now because she has revealed that she has this gift, that she's a natural leader, authentic voice and inspiration to women all over the world.
>> there is no chance that michelle obama will ever run for public office. >> i will not run for president. no, not going to do it. >> i think that when she leaves, she'll leave with great appreciation for the opportunities that this provided but also with an eagerness to reclaim at least part of her life and her family's life that was sacrificed in service of this presidency. >> i want to walk down a street, i want to sit in a yard that is not a national park. i do want to, you know, drop in on -- into target. >> it's hard to imagine any first lady having a bigger legacy than michelle obama. you know, she was beyonce before beyonce. she's like beyonce says she's
cool. she's unbelievable and she's going to be missed. she's going to be missed. >> michelle lavaughn robinson, girl of the south side, you made the white house a place that belongs to everybody. and a new generation sets its sights higher because it has you as a role model. so you have made me proud and you have made the country proud. >> i want to close today by simply saying thank you. thank you for everything you do for our kids and for our country. being your first lady has been the greatest honor of my life, and i hope i've made you proud. [ cheers and applause ]
> as a former fbi agent and chairman of the house intelligence committee, i had oversight of all 16 of our nation's intelligence agencies. my name is mike rogers. i had access to classified information gathered by our operatives, people who risked everything for the united states and our families. you don't know their faces or their names. you don't know the real stories from the people who lived the fear and the pressure, until now. >> you would look at me and