First Lady Michelle Obama Steps Up Her Policy Causes

Yes, there was Jimmy Fallon and the "evolution of mom dancing." There was the surprise ball-gown-clad appearance for the final moments of the Academy Awards. There was Big Bird roaming the halls of the White House, and there were all those magazine covers.

And don't forget "the bangs."

But behind the glamour and the occasional - yet always controlled - goofiness, First Lady Michelle Obama has returned to the East Wing for her husband's second term with a sharp focus on the policy causes that she has championed over the past four years.

That means a continuation of her "Let's Move!" campaign against childhood obesity and her work with military families through the "Joining Forces" initiative.

And there are hints of some new endeavors as well.

"We are also working through a strategic planning process to determine how to build upon and expand her work with these initiatives, as well as exploring possible new focus areas," said a White House aide.

Without a re-election campaign on the horizon, and with a media landscape that increasingly affords almost unlimited opportunities to reach audiences, Mrs. Obama is able to leverage consistently high approval ratings to promote her goals relentlessly.

Second terms have typically afforded opportunities for first ladies to tread outside their highly scripted comfort zones. After her husband's re-election in 2004, Laura Bush spoke out forcefully against human rights abuses in Myanmar, also known as Burma, and even held a press conference after a cyclone hit the Southeast Asian nation in 2008 (Not known for her comedic panache, she also brought the house down during a routine at the annual White House Correspondents' Association dinner in 2005.)

In Ronald Reagan's second term, his wife's well-known involvement in White House staff struggles was fodder for press coverage about her "obsession" with ousting Chief of Staff Donald T. Regan, who resigned in 1987.

First Lady Hillary Clinton - no political shrinking violet in Bill Clinton's first term - confirmed that she was considering a run for United States Senate well before her husband left office.

For Mrs. Obama, the transition into the second term hasn't been quite that striking, but observers do say that she's showing a renewed energy in pushing her major policy efforts.

"She's looking forward to making the most of her finite time as First Lady, and while the spotlight's on, doing as much as possible to make a difference," said Olivia Alair, the first lady's 2012 campaign secretary and now a vice president at SKDKnickerbocker.

Since the president's re-election, Michelle Obama is newly free of the pressure of a looming campaign season in which she would be relentlessly described as a valuable piece of political machinery.

(A search of media reports finds almost 300 hits in the last two years for mentions of "Michelle Obama" and "secret weapon" in the same news article.)

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SOURCE: NBC Politics
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