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Obama picked up a picture book, flared her nostrils, and began sniffing noisily, in the manner of a bear foraging in the woods for dinner.“Boom! She can give the impression, in the midst of the campaign’s endless roundtables and kaffeeklatsches, that she’d rather be talking them. Having traversed vast landscapes of race and class, often as a solo traveller, she evinces the discipline and, occasionally, the detachment of an Army brat. Her mother and her older brother both say that she has never once phoned them in tears. When Stevie Wonder, whom she was escorting to the stage at a rally in February, tripped on a riser, sending her tumbling down next to him in front of thousands of people, she exhibited no embarrassment or alarm, turning what could have been a blooper-reel nightmare into a non-event.Her lack of pretense has made her popular with the portion of the electorate, and the media, for whom prim Laura Bush seems out of touch.Cindy Moelis, who has known Obama since they worked together in Chicago’s city hall, in the nineties, told me, “I’ve actually had girlfriends call me and go, ‘You’re so lucky.It assuages fears of difference—“We’re just like you” is the cumulative message of all the back-and-forth about the breath and the bread—and inoculates against jealousy, a smart bit of self-deprecation on the part of a young, gifted, attractive couple whose fortunes have risen quickly, like movie stars insisting that they were unpopular in high school.Besides, Obama’s tendency toward deflation isn’t limited to Barack.She doesn’t parse her words or select them with an antenna for political correctness.”People forget that Barack himself has been working the hapless-hubby routine for a long time: he writes about trying to enjoy the bachelor life as a freshman senator in Washington but finding himself too “fully domesticated, soft, and helpless” to remember to buy a shower curtain.The ordinary card, in fact, may be one of the Obamas’ best assets.

The state’s Democratic primary, which her husband, Barack, needed badly to win, was in forty-eight hours. Obama picked up another book, from the “Olivia” series.“I have Olivia in my four-year-old class! More than anything, she seems to enjoy talking about her husband and her daughters (Malia, nine, and Sasha, six).

In Wisconsin, I asked her if she was offended by Bill Clinton’s use of the phrase “fairy tale” to describe her husband’s characterization of his position on the Iraq War. But the domestic carping that commentators have taken as some sort of uncontrollable T. By noting, for example, that Barack is “the ‘Harry Potter’ parent,” and that she encourages him to find time to read to Malia and Sasha, Michelle makes Barack seem like a great dad and a guardian of young womanhood.

At first, Obama responded with a curt “No.” But, after a few seconds, she affected a funny voice. ” she said, clawing at the air with her fingernails. The contrast between their family life and that of the Clintons is implicit.

“Michelle’s always been very vocal about anything,” her mother, Marian Robinson, told me. When she was at Princeton, her brother”—Craig, now the head basketball coach at Brown, was two years ahead of Michelle—“called me and said, ‘Mom, Michelle’s here telling people they’re not teaching French right.’ She thought the style was not conversational enough.

I told him, ‘Just pretend you don’t know her.’ ”There is more to the Obamas’ relationship, however, than the caricature of Michelle as a ballbreaker to Barack’s Obambi (Maureen Dowd’s term).