Michelle Obama: The First Lady Czar

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Finally making use of First Lady Michelle Obama’s immense popularity, the White House pulled her into the fight for health care reform on Sept. 18, with a speech to women’s rights activists. An April poll found 72 percent of Americans view her favorably. So we wondered, why — despite criticism of her bared arms, despite last year’s attacks on her patriotism — she’s become so beloved in the eyes of so many.

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Every First Lady takes on certain causes, and one of Obama’s is healthy eating. Here, the First Lady attends the opening of a new farmers’ market near the White House on Sept. 17. “Farmers’ markets do more than just help Americans feed their families healthy meals. They help America’s family farmers … That’s the good thing about farmers’ markets. You get to know the people who grow your food,” she said.

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Obama works with students at the White House vegetable garden, the first since Eleanor Roosevelt’s victory garden. The garden, she says, has “been one of the greatest things that I’ve done in my life so far.” The first thing world leaders ask her about, she says, is the garden.

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Obama plants trees in honor of the Edward M. Kennedy National Service Bill in April. Both Obamas have spoken highly of the values of community service.

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In June, Obama volunteers at the Capitol City Food Bank with congressional spouses.

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Obama and her husband (not pictured) paint at a Habitat for Humanity house on Sept. 11, a national day of service, along with students at George Washington University. The First Lady has promised to speak at the college’s commencement if students perform 100,000 hours of community service.

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The First Family stuffs backpacks with books, food and pictures of Bo for troops at Fort McNair in June.

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Michelle Obama announced early on that one of her personal causes would be supporting military families. Here, she speaks to sailors and their families at an event marking the homecoming of the USS Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group in July.

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The First Lady greets military families at the White House on the Fourth of July.

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With all her campaigns, however, Obama says her first duty is as “mom-in-chief.”

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She’s also taken up the push to bring the Olympics to Chicago in 2016. Here, she practices fencing as part of a demonstration with Olympic athletes on the White House lawn on Sept. 16.

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With degrees from Princeton and Harvard, the First Lady often extols the virtues of a good education. Here, she reads with her daughters, Sasha and Malia, to children at the White House Easter Egg Roll.

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Obama gives a commencement address at the University of California at Merced.

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At a meeting with board members of Communities In Schools. The board room is a familiar setting for the former hospital executive, lawyer and member of several boards.

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She also fulfills a more traditional role as patron of the arts. Here, she applauds during a jazz performance at the White House in June. She’s also held a poetry jam (a White House first) and a country music performance.

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The First Lady cuts the ribbon at the opening of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s new American Wing.

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Another traditional role: First Hostess. Here, she greets well-wishers on the day after her husband’s inauguration.

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With the President at a black-tie gala for the country’s governors in February.

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Obama has tried to open up the White House more than her predecessors. Here, she invites culinary students into the White House kitchen.

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The First Lady welcomes VIPs such as President Clinton and former First Lady Rosalynn Carter.

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The First Couple.

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