Michelle Obama’s office can be a “confining, frustrating, even miserable place to work,” former White House assistant press secretary Reid Cherlin says, noting the first lady has an “exacting but often ambivalent leadership style” that does not make working for her easy.

“Jealousy and discontentment have festered, as courtiers squabble over the allocation of responsibility and access to Mrs. Obama, both of which can be aggravatingly scarce,” writes Cherlin in a piece for The New Republic.

Cherlin worked in the West Wing, not the East Wing where the first lady’s office is located. But sourcing former East Wing insiders, he presents a detailed inner look at a first lady whose popularity overshadows that of her husband, but who did not want to get in the way of her husband’s presidency.

“Perhaps no first lady in recent memory has entered the stately recesses of the East Wing under a higher burden of expectation than Michelle Obama,” he writes. “From her earliest appearances on the 2008 campaign trail, it was clear that she possessed rare political gifts.
Like Hillary Clinton before her, she was an accomplished lawyer with policy smarts. But unlike Clinton, she was also an electrifying speaker, able to translate her husband’s lofty agenda into a grounded, commonsense morality.”

But she is a perfectionist, he said, who often plots out her strategy months in advance, and although she already had lists of official duties as National Hostess, and launched her “Let’s Move” and “Joining Forces” program by the 2010 midterms, she wondered if she should be doing more.