Pop & Politics contributor Judy Kurtz is the “In the Know” columnist for The Hill
The clock is ticking on Michelle Obama‘s remaining time in the White House.
President Barack Obama said on The Tonight Show recently that, once Inauguration Day comes, “you’re out of there.” But as the packing gets underway, it remains to be seen what the first lady’s first move might be upon leaving 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
“I really think she’s just going to walk out and feel a sense of freedom that she hasn’t felt in seven and a half years,” says Kate Bennett, Independent Journal Review‘s White House correspondent. “I think she’s definitely going to kind of revel in not having the shackles on, in a way.”
Although living in the historic and luxurious confines of the executive mansion might seem glamorous, Obama hasn’t exactly hidden her unease about residing under a microscope.
“What do I want to do?” FLOTUS told Oprah Winfrey when asked about her future during a discussion at a women’s summit earlier this month. “I want to walk out. I want to open my front door without discussing it with anyone, and I want to walk out that door and just walk.”
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“I think she strikes me as someone who’s going to try to go back to a more private life,” says Dr. Myra Gutin, a communications professor at Rider University and author of The President’s Partner: The First Lady in the Twentieth Century. “She’s been public in saying she’d like to go into Target and buy things, and not be trailed by the Secret Service. But that’s not going to happen, at least for awhile.”
A more likely possibility in the nearer future? Obama inking a book deal.
“She’ll probably start working on an autobiography. That’s likely to take up quite a bit of her time,” Gutin says, noting that it’s become a tradition that began with former President Richard Nixon‘s wife, Pat, and continued with every subsequent first lady. “I suspect that [Obama will] write by herself. I don’t think that she’ll have a ghost[writer] of any kind or anyone necessarily helping her.”
While penning a memoir might be the traditional route a first lady takes, Peter Slevin says Michelle Obama’s post-White House journey could diverge from the typical trail. The Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism associate professor and author of 2015’s Michelle Obama: A Life says, “Michelle’s made clear that she’s not following any particular model in the White House for what a first lady should do, and I think the same will hold true when she leaves. She’s going to carve her own path.”
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That could mean continuing her work on several causes she’s championed throughout her time in the nation’s capital. Says Gutin, “If I had to think of something she’d do, it would be to go back to the non-profit sector. It just seems that would resonate more with who she’s been and her philosophy. You look at some of the things she did as first lady—from Let’s Move, to Joining Forces, to Reach Higher, to Let Girls Learn—all these various things, I could see her working on those from a non-profit base.”
“I think she’s probably going to continue doing Let Girls Learn, her big initiative to help girls around the world get an education,” Bennett predicts as well. “I think she’ll probably stick with Let’s Move or some sort of childhood obesity advocacy. And I think she’s going to be involved a lot with the Obama Foundation, building a library in Chicago.”
But the 52-year-old former lawyer may rack up the frequent flier miles jetting to and from the Windy City. The Obamas have said they’re sticking around Washington until their youngest daughter, 15-year-old Sasha, graduates from high school. The first family’s eldest, Malia, 17, plans on taking a gap year before beginning her studies at Harvard University in fall 2017.
One thing that all of these first lady insiders agree on is that Obama isn’t likely to end up back in the White House. While chatter about a future in politics has followed FLOTUS throughout both of her husband’s two terms as commander in chief, another President Obama is a no-go, the experts tell E! News.
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“I don’t think that she’s ever liked politics a great deal to begin with,” explains Gutin. Former longtime Washington Post reporter Slevin says, “It’s clear that she will not go into politics. She will not follow Hillary Clinton‘s path. That’s not her world.”
Bennett puts it simply: “I think she’s like, ‘Peace out. I’m done.'”
After nearly eight years of living life in the White House fishbowl, Obama may soon face one of her toughest decisions yet.
“She has every option in the book at this point and she’ll need to figure out where she can be effective and how she can make a difference, but also how she can get some of the private time and the family time that she so craves,” says Slevin. “I don’t think she’s going to just drop off and fade away,” adds Bennett. “I think she’s really going to become probably a figurehead for global achievement for young women.”
“Her challenge going forward will be to make a difference on the things she cares about,” Slevin says, “without quite the same megaphone that she has now.”