The latest Enquirer cover story on the warring Obamas
For months now, The National Enquirer has published stories on Mooch’s rages and tirades, mainly directed against “her” husband but also against staffers in the White House. Her abuse and bullying have earned her the nickname of “Monster Michelle” from the staff.
I didn’t post them because of the Enquirer being a supermarket tabloid, although it must be pointed out that the Enquirer was nominated for a Pulitzer for its ACCURATE reporting on former U.S. senator and Democrat vice-presidential candidate John Edwards’ adultery and “love child” — news that the Enquireralone doggedly pursued, when the non-tabloid “serious” media all refused to do their job.
Now, Mooch’s behavior is no longer just the stuff of supermarket tabloids. A White House insider has come forward with his personal testimony.
He is former White House assistant press secretary Reid Cherlin.
In an article for the New Republic of March 24, 2014, titled “The Worst Wing: How the East Wing shrank Michelle Obama,” Cherlin describes the First Lady of the United States of America as a demanding perfectionist who doesn’t make clear what her standards are and who is as likely to upbraid her staff for putting out the wrong skirt for her to wear as for a serious policy error. All of which makes the White House a high-stress “miserable place to work.”
Cherlin’s account is all the more credible because he admires Mooch, describing her as “galvanizing”; possessed of “rare political gifts” of “charisma” and “truth-telling power”; “an accomplished lawyer with policy smarts”; and “an electrifying speaker, able to translate her husband’s lofty agenda into a grounded, commonsense morality.”
Here are excerpts from Cherlin’s article:
[W]hat Mrs. Obama’s hyper-motivated, highly accomplished staffers would never publicly admit—is that the first lady’s office can be a confining, frustrating, even miserable place to work. Jealousy and discontentment have festered, as courtiers squabble over the allocation of responsibility and access to Mrs. Obama, both of which can be aggravatingly scarce. Fueling these sentiments, according to former East Wing insiders, is the exacting but often ambivalent leadership style of the first lady herself. […]
Mrs. Obama made it clear to her staff that—endless compulsory East Room receptions aside—her time was a valuable asset and requests to use it would have to meet an exceptionally high bar. Every event should focus on a concrete, achievable goal, like announcing a new corporate partnership. She would only be available for official duties two or three days a week; the remainder would be devoted to family responsibilities. One ex-employee observed, diplomatically, “It would take a really creative staffer to work within that environment and be successful.”
For one thing, the imperative to guarantee results could be paralyzing. “That was the pressure on us,” one ex-aide told me. “‘Don’t do it if it’s not going to be perfect.’” Staff knew that every event should produce positive coverage, and that all the angles had to be exhaustively researched and gamed out (not easy with a team of less than 30). But it was never completely clear what the standard of perfection should be. “There’s no barometer: The first lady having the wrong pencil skirt on Monday is just as big of a fuck-up as someone speaking on the record when they didn’t mean to or a policy initiative that completely failed,” says another former aide. “It just made you super anxious.” Another past employee described a common feeling of “how can we be the caliber that we’re expected to be with no attention and no resources and being an afterthought? And all that can make for sparks. Friction.”
Former staffers describe a high-stress, high-stakes workplace, in which Mrs. Obama scrutinized the smallest facets of her schedule. Aides in both wings of the White House say she insists on planning every move months in advance and finalizing speeches weeks ahead of time—a rigidity nearly unheard of in today’s chaotic political environment. […]
All of this led to a culture of harsh internal judgment. Invitations to meetings with the first lady, in her office above the Jackie Kennedy Garden, became a vital status symbol, a way for staffers to measure their worth. “Every meeting was like an identity crisis, whether you got invited or not,” one former East Winger told me. Casual face-time with Mrs. Obama was coveted as a badge of insiderdom. “Everyone sort of stands at attention in a different way, or they try to make the joke, or they try to be the one noticed, or they try to get the smile,” says a former employee. “And that’s in part a yearning for acknowledgment that you’re part of this, something bigger, and that she knows who you are.” Another former employee put it more bluntly: “They don’t want to work for her; they want to be friends with her.”
Few have succeeded. Mrs. Obama has consistently shown a strong preference to be surrounded by aides with whom she has long-standing ties. “She’s the kind of person who, if you know her a long time, you get to the point with her where you’re loved,” says a former White House staffer, “but it’s really hard at first.” Within months of taking office, Mrs. Obama replaced her first chief-of-staff, Jackie Norris—who had overseen the campaign’s stellar Iowa operation—with an old friend, Susan Sher. When Sher returned to Chicago at the end of 2010, Tina Tchen, another Chicago lawyer who’d been working in the White House Office of Public Engagement, settled into the chief-of-staff job. Former employees say that Sher and Tchen both emphasized competence and conflict-avoidance over grand vision. Most important, both were comfortable taking orders from Valerie Jarrett, the first lady’s self-appointed enforcer and avatar. Let’s Move! saw its first two directors wash out—one a veteran political organizer and the next a pediatrician—to be replaced in 2013 by Sam Kass, the Obamas’ longtime chef and garden-master. […]
the president’s advisers had long been suspicious of the seriousness of Mrs. Obama’s operation. […] [The goal of] an initiative on education equality to the first lady’s agenda […] is to encourage more young people, especially those from underserved populations, to achieve a college education. It’s a cause that Mrs. Obama is clearly passionate about and one that harnesses the power of her own life story. And yet insiders say that the program has so far fallen short of one of the strategic plan’s key recommendations—that it be supported with substance, like proposals for legislation or policy changes among higher-ed institutions. […]
For all the perfection that Mooch exacts from her staff, she managed to drip snot from her nose for a good 7-10 minutes when she gave a speech at the National Governors Association Meeting in the White House on February 28, 2011. (For the video of snot dripping from her nose, see “First Lady of Snot.”)
Her staff must be too frightened to let her know, and too bullied to pass her a tissue.
Dr. Eowyn is the Editor of Fellowship of the Minds.