What We Should Look For In A President, According To Michelle Obama

"We're very short-sighted about how we think about selecting the Commander-in-Chief."

Who should run for president in 2020? Michelle Obama isn't interested, but she says she knows exactly who she's looking for.

The former first lady opened up at the 39th annual Simmons Leadership Conference in Boston, Mass., on Wednesday about the qualities Americans should be looking for when sizing up presidential candidates in 2020,  based on her personal experience in the White House.

As captured in CNN video, she also let well-wishers hoping that she'll be moving back to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue down easy. Thank you, but no:  Michelle Obama does not want to be president.


"Just because I gave a good speech and I'm smart and intelligent doesn't mean that I should be the next president," she said. "That's not how we should pick the president... We're very short-sighted about how we think about selecting the Commander-in-Chief. This is the hardest job on the planet. It requires deep intellect, a knowledge of history, a desire for facts and taking in information."

While speculation has risen and fallen about Obama herself running, she seems to object to the rotating door of families that have been in the White House. In fact, she said that former President Barack Obama dragged her "kicking and screaming" into the political arena, and that she never had a passion for it.

White House / Pete Souza

"First, we have to cultivate young women as leaders," she said. "We have to find them. Because getting into the political arena is complicated. Which is why you see Bush, Clinton, Bush, Clinton, and people want Obama, Obama. It's because its hard to make your way into that circle."

Costa Ricans voted Epsy Campbell Barr into office this week, making her the first black woman to ever be vice president in the Americas. But in the United States, the search for the first female president or vice president is still on. After having a front row seat to the job for eight years, Obama felt like she came away with a greater understanding of what kind of person needed to be in the Oval Office She said her "hints" during the election seem to have been ignored, but that we can't just elect someone who will hire good advisors.

Ultimately, she said, the president will end up making huge decisions based on conflicting advice.

"Every advisor is going to give the president five different opinions," Obama said. "And for the hardest problems that come to the president's desk, the president has to sort through five, six, seven different opinions and all the grey and then they have to bring their knowledge to bear to make the decision about which of these five grey answers will take us to the next step."

She added that a president has "to be analytical and you have to be smarter than your advisors."

Another issue, Obama pointed out, was that voters sometimes pass over competency and intellect in favor of the candidate they like the most, the candidate who makes them feel good or who seems passionate. 

"This notion that we want our president to make us feel a certain way is important, yes," she said. "But it is more important that they understand the issues, not just in this country but around the world... the Commander-in-Chief is looked to by every international leader."

Ultimately, Obama said we need to look past party, and ignore whether candidates are running as Democrats or Republicans.  She said she's hoping to see more women in state houses, Congress and the governor's house. If women start at the ground floor and build up, she said, it'll help develop them develop as leaders that can ultimately become president. 

And then it's on us to go out there and vote. 

"We have to be informed and educated about who these candidates are and what they bring to the table beside a winning personality or the ability to make you laugh and smile and feel good," Obama said. "We are the answer that we seek."

Cover images via White House / Pete Souza and the U.S. National Archives.


Subscribe to our newsletter and get the latest news and exclusive updates.