Michelle Obama hosted Nancy Reagan for lunch at the White House Wednesday. VIEW OUR GALLERY of first lady friends and frenemies, past and present.
Michelle Obama’s power lunch Wednesday with Nancy Reagan in the White House private quarters could be the start of a new friendship in a tradition of first lady gal pals, including a tight bond between Hillary Clinton and Jacqueline Kennedy. But not all first ladies have gotten along—Nancy Reagan and Laura Bush, for example, rarely expressed warmth for each other.
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According to Kati Marton, author of Hidden Power: Presidential Marriages That Shaped Our History, Nancy probably offered Michelle advice about how to deal with the loss of privacy her family is suffering, and encouraged her to use the White House as a stage (an opportunity she thinks the Bushes overlooked).
Nancy and Michelle’s roles could not be more different, Marton says. While both women’s husbands rely upon them, “Nancy Reagan was absolutely indispensable to her husband’s presidency. She was his unofficial chief of staff—she picked the people who worked well for Ronnie. Michelle Obama does not play that role and does not want to play that role.” Nancy also had an adoring relationship to Reagan, whereas Michelle seems to have a no-nonsense, modern marriage of equals with Obama. Ironically, even though Michelle and Obama have a more “modern” marriage, Michelle is free to play a more traditional role than Nancy did as first lady. Nancy was a big, sometimes-scary presence in the White House whereas Michelle has happily proclaimed her role as “Mom in Chief.”
“When Nancy walked through the West Wing she caused fear and trembling,” Marton said. Bringing Nancy in so early on is a shrewd and generous move on Michelle’s part, suggesting that even if she claims to stay out of White House politics, she’s got the first lady role down cold. VIEW OUR GALLERY of powerful first lady friendships, past and present.