President Obama the Second?

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* The former First Lady wowed a Scottish business audience with charm, directness and authenticity, and explained why she's not running.

* She didn't use the word 'Trump', but it was rarely far away.

* The focus of this former corporate lawyer is now on finishing memoirs, family, and working with young people.

Private citizens Michelle and Barack Obama are careful what they say. It would be easy to make headlines by criticising their successors in the White House, particularly when the current president is so careless in his choice of words.

As Donald Trump was undertaking a spectacular reverse ferret over Russia's meddling in US elections, Michelle Obama was in Edinburgh, wowing a business audience all scrubbed up for one of the more extravagant charity nights of the black tie dining year.

Although American politics isn't the usual fare for this page, these 90 minutes of White House insight, homespun philosophy, girl power, with a whole bundle of charm and good humour, is worth noting.

If the Washington Post is right when it reported, earlier on Tuesday, that Michelle Obama commands $200,000 a speech, then this conversation with Scottish rowing legend Dame Katherine Grainger was big on bucks and also on motivation and inspiration.

The Post's article was mainly about how low profile the Obamas are, as the first presidential couple since 1921 to make their post-White House home inside the Washington beltway. They're waiting at least until their younger daughter finishes high school, next year.

On this evidence, they're busy planning, and carefully, for the next steps. The Obama Foundation has just set out to promote leadership skills in Africa. A family holiday in Scotland is now a small part of the plan. The 44th president likes his golf.

Before then, though, will be at least two books. Michelle Obama's is out on November 13. The title, Becoming, reflects her observation that she's not yet a finished human product.

Dangerous for girls

The interlocutors at the Hunter Foundation's charity dinner seem to have agreed not to use the word "Trump", though it was rarely far away. The audience, of around 900, was filling in the blanks where they were conspicuously left hanging in the air.

This is a dangerous world for girls, said the former FLOTUS (First Lady of the US) and mother of two young women. And if we turn a blind eye to leaders who treat women with disrespect, then we're all complicit. (See what I mean?)

Why put up with mediocre men as leaders when excellence is demanded of women?

"I sat at a lot of tables with men who had more money and more degrees and more confidence, who I thought were saying things that were wrong that I assumed I just didn't understand. Ten years on they're still talking rubbish. It's time for them to listen."

Leadership, asked the Dame? So Ms Obama defined it the way US presidents once aspired to be.

"Knowledge, intelligence, reading a lot. You've got to know history... You can't lead off the cuff." (Make you think of anyone?)

"You have to have perspective and have opinions based on facts, and have experience of the world."


The obvious question for Michelle Obama was whether she's interested in running for the Oval Office. So she asked it herself, as she riffed on her choice as to whether to support her husband's run for the presidency.

"I decided to support my husband because not supporting him would just be have a selfish act.

"I know Barack. He's always smart, one of the the smartest person in the room. He had decency, compassion and empathy. He had everything I would have asked for in a leader." (Big, knowing applause.)

"To not support him would simply be because it would be hard for me and my kids. And we'll be fine. I had to sacrifice for the good of other people. I can't just hold on to this [family life] because I'm afraid."

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Her husband isn't unique, but his combination of attributes is very rare: "Being willing to put yourself in that position - to take the pressure, the pain, the partisanship, and the racism and all that goes with it - that's an unusual combination.

"I don't regret it, because Barack got a lot of good things done, and he showed the world and continues to show the world what we should be striving for in terms of the kind of people that lead us. And we need to have that model out there and remember it."

(Applause again - amen to that, sister.)

"Yes, I'm glad he did it. Will I do it? No."

Why not?

"What I just said: my children. For people who say 'you should run'" (wilder applause, and a joke that Scottish charity dinner-goers don't have a vote), "it is a hard job, it is a difficult, gruelling thing for any family to go through. It was not as easy as Barack made it look."


"Here's the thing. I think that in this time, the way people see politics, there is a cynicism that isn't healthy. Once you enter politics, you automatically alienate half the people you could help.

"I was hoping people could hear me in a different way outside politics. We will be doing as much as we've ever done, outside the realm of politics, and the hope is that all the people we're trying to help, regardless of race, political affiliation and predisposition in life - I want to help all the people, I want to help all the girls..."

"Here's the other thing: leaders need to learn to make way for the next generation."

Does authenticity matter, the former FLOTUS was asked? Being comfortable with "your own story - the whole story", with its faults and failures, is essential, is her message to young people. If you try to cover it up, people can smell that something's not right.

Failure, of course, is one of the America's gifts to the business world. You need one or two flops under your belt before you have respect of the USA entrepreneur community and its funders.

So it is with young people, and young women in particular.

This was a hopeful message, with each generation of young people raising the bar of expectations for change, when not everyone feels hopeful about the state of politics, on either side of the Atlantic.

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