First Lady's Touch: How Much Influence Does Michelle Obama Have?

This is a RUSH transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," June 19, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

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LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS GUEST HOST: In the "personal story" segment tonight, there have been plenty of photo ops of Michelle Obama and her White House garden, have you seen them? But her latest event took an interesting turn.


FIRST LADY MICHELLE OBAMA: The president and Congress are going to begin to address health care reforms. And these issues of nutrition and wellness and preventive care is going to be the focus of a lot of conversation coming up in the weeks and months to come. And these are issues that I care deeply about, especially when they affect America's children.


INGRAHAM: Are those heads of lettuce on her sweater or are those roses? I love that sweater.

With the first lady entering into the health care debate, the question becomes, what role and how much power does she really wield when it comes to shaping policy?

Joining us now is my old friend A.B. Stoddard, the associate editor of "The Hill" newspaper.

Now A.B., on my radio show for many months, I've been doing something called the razzle dazzle watch. And the razzle dazzle, you know, we have the vegetable garden, we have the queen and the ipod, and we have all these cool events going on. And behind this, as we find, in articles, maybe the new "Vanity Fair" piece, "The New York Times," is a calculated effort to manipulate the media and construct an image of Mrs. Obama as someone's involved in these philanthropic activities, but really is not interested in policy.

Yet, you saw that a reference to health care form in the vegetable garden. Is there something going on here beyond just softening the image, which is they said they've actually been trying to do through these press availabilities.

A.B. STODDARD, POLITICAL ANALYST: Right, they are calibrating her image is very, very purposeful. It is a result of the backlash she experienced during the campaign when she said, "this is the first time I've love my country." And all of a sudden.

INGRAHAM: Proud to be an American.

STODDARD: Right, right. Very unpopular. And they really kind of tried to reposition her. And so what you find is behind the scenes, she spends a lot of time with military families. And that's actually done away from the cameras.

Before the cameras, you see your a lot of D.C. schools and out in the vegetable patch, talking about fitness, and health, and preventative.

INGRAHAM: And health care reform. A.B., connect the dots.

STODDARD: I do think that she is not inserting herself into policy now. It doesn't not mean that she won't once she builds up.

INGRAHAM: But why are they doing this? I have never seen a first lady do date night USA, date night Paris, dinner in London.

STODDARD: They only really want to show the side of.

INGRAHAM: I've never seen lettuce that big.

STODDARD: They only want to talk about her life, her being a mother, her being a wife.


STODDARD: They don't want - they purposefully keep her out of policy. Now it doesn't mean that a year from now, once she builds up more goodwill with the public, she's at 73 percent approval rating.

INGRAHAM: Laying the groundwork.

STODDARD: ... Which (INAUDIBLE) that she won't, but for now, we're not.

INGRAHAM: Or are they planting the seeds? Are they tilling the garden for future?

"The New York Times" in April wrote this. Some political analysts believe that Mrs. Obama hopes that her surge in popularity, and she's quite popular, will ultimately allow her greater latitude to operate more openly in the policy realms that she cares about. She cares desperately about these political issues that her husband cares about. And I think, I mean, she's a smart lady. She's supremely ambitious. She has a powerful presence. I think it would be naive for anyone to believe that she would just be happy in the garden and doing the diet stuff. I don't think.

STODDARD: I think all smart, accomplished first ladies like we've had recently, in Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush - all have policy concerns that they're passionate about. I don't think it will be surprising if she later on inserts herself in some debates. But they vary.

INGRAHAM: I'm begging her to be in health care. Begging her.

STODDARD: They learned from the mistakes of Hillary Clinton inserting herself into the policy debate on health care. And they are not going to do it. It becomes too toxic and it's too early.

INGRAHAM: Is the dog and the bowls of apples and all this stuff, is this part of a diversionary tactic? I mean, the razzle dazzle is about the image. And you can't -- if you love them as a family, you have to love the policies that are being advocated by the president.

STODDARD: By the head of - what we see in the polls is that America is fascinated with this first family. And actually, individually when break down on issues, he's losing support on issue after issue. Because this remains popular.

INGRAHAM: Okay, so there's a separation that goes on.

STODDARD: But maintaining their personal popularity they think ultimately helps with political momentum.

INGRAHAM: But you don't doubt that this is a calculated effort. I mean, some of these journalists, who are not conservatives, are talking about how Mrs. Obama brings in her own hair stylist, her own make-up, her own clothes for a "Vogue" cover shoot.

STODDARD: Actually.

INGRAHAM: Never done before. They always manage all of that. She - and the writer said, well now this was -- she knows what she wants.

STODDARD: No, this is highly disciplined. And actually, they've admitted it. Her own staff is on record, including Dave Axelrod ...


STODDARD: ... top advisor to the president, saying we are controlling her image ...

INGRAHAM: Yeah, and they're at the Rahm Emanuel policy meetings in the morning. Her Desiree Rogers. I think she hangs out at some of those policy meetings. So interesting stuff. A.B., it's always great to see you.

STODDARD: Great to see you, Laura. Thank you so much.

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