Meet his First Lady: funny and so authentic

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Nobody could call Barack Obama a slouch at inspirational public speaking, but anyone who has heard his wife might have to conclude she's even better.

Michelle Obama, 44, has been nothing short of a firecracker on the campaign trail – passionate, eloquent, outspoken, funny, tender and utterly authentic. She gets audiences excited, emotional, even teary as she talks about her personal journey, her family's struggles and triumphs, her dreams for her own children – daughters Malia, nine, and Sasha, six – and everyone else's.

Paradoxically, that may not serve her, or her husband, as well as it should in a general election campaign. American politics is still a culture of deep division and fear, especially over race, and Mrs Obama's unapologetic presentation of herself as a product of Chicago's rough-and-ready South Side is likely to scare her detractors every bit as much as it will impassion her supporters.

Already she has got herself in trouble for the occasional carelessly phrased remark – none more so than when she said that this campaign had made her proud of her country for the first time in her adult life. She was talking about the excitement of building a grass-roots movement, but conservatives pounced on the line to question her, and Barack's, patriotism. If Senator Obama gets his party's nomination, we can expect a whole lot more of that before November.

While her husband has the unique ability to make himself and his audiences colour-blind, Michelle is unambiguously a black woman from the 'hood – albeit a brilliant one who broke out to go to Princeton and to Harvard Law School. She met her husband at a private law firm in Chicago where they both briefly worked, and went on to a career in public administration. "I'm the better-looking one," she's been known to wisecrack on the stump.

"And I'm smarter, too."

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