When even a dinosaur wasn’t big enough

Michelle Obama isn’t an issue in this election, nor should she be. But, as I’ve observed before, she’s still worth writing about as a depressing specimen of a post-modern class of victim — demanding, whining, self-absorbed, self-pitying, and infantile.

The latest evidence comes from an account, in a biography of Ms. Obama, of her time as an associate at a major Chicago law firm:

Quincy White, the partner who helped recruit Michelle and who headed the marketing [or entertainment law] group remembers finding her a challenge to manage. White, who is now retired from the firm, says he gave her the most interesting work he could find, in part because he wanted to see her advance, but also because she seemed perennially dissatisfied.

She was, White recalls, “quite possibly the most ambitious associate that I’ve ever seen.” She wanted significant responsibility right away and was not afraid to object if she wasn’t getting what she felt she deserved, he says.

At big firms, much of the work that falls to young associates involves detail and tedium. There were all sorts of arcane but important rules about what could and could not be said or done in product advertisements, and in the marketing group, all the associates, not just the new ones, reviewed scripts for TV commercials to make sure they conformed. As far as associate work goes, it could have been worse — “Advertising is a little sexier than spending a full year reading depositions in an antitrust law suit or reviewing documents for a big merger,” says White — but it was monotonous and relatively low-level.

Too monotonous for Michelle, who, White says, complained that the work he gave her was unsatisfactory. He says he gave her the Coors beer ads, which he considered one of the more glamorous assignments they had. Even then, he says, “she at one point went over my head and complained [to human resources] that I wasn’t giving her enough interesting stuff, and the person came down to my office and said, ‘Basically she’s complaining that she’s being treated like she’s a second-year associate,’ and we agreed that she was a second-year associate. I had eight or nine other associates, and I couldn’t start treating one of them a lot better.”

There’s also this gem: “When an opportunity came in to handle the budding public television career of Barney, the purple dinosaur poised to become a phenomenon among American children, [a partner] says he and others felt it had Michelle’s name written all over it.”

But it was an even bigger future phenomenon, a certain summer associate out of Harvard, who actually had Michelle’s name written all over him.

The biography is by Liza Mundy.

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