The XX Factor

True Confessions?

Do we really believe that the old, frank, loose, outspoken Michelle Obama came out of hiding for a moment-that the U.S. first lady, during a visit from her French counterpart earlier this year, let down her guard in a conversation with Carla Bruni-Sarkozy and dished that her life in the White House is “hell” and she “can’t stand it “? As asserted in a new book that Bruni may or may not have authorized? A book with the puzzling title Carla and the Ambitious ?

I dunno-Michelle Obama is awfully disciplined, and she has held her tongue and avoided bloopers for, like, two or three years now. Her own press secretary has denied that she said such a thing, and so, now, has the French embassy. It’s sort of hard to believe that a person as tough-minded and savvy as Michelle Obama would confide in a frenemy like the French first lady, who-another, even more unauthorized book asserts-views Mrs. Obama as an international rival in the realms of style and sexiness. Or maybe the American first lady did make that remark but, as is her wont, was actually kidding. Or maybe she was using her college French, which she always complained was badly taught at Princeton, and was saying something like L’enfer, c’est les autres in an effort to discuss existential philosophy with the Gallic chanteuse , but was misunderstood as saying L’enfer, c’est le White House. Or maybe it just spilled out! L’enfer, l’enfer, ma vie est un enfer! Perhaps she just went ahead blurted it, and Bruni patted her shoulder while secretly envying her shoes.

It’s probably not true that she did say it, but at the same time, it’s easy to believe she feels that way. What would be pleasant about her job? Just now? Raising children in the spotlight, dealing with a possibly demoralized husband, walking the dog, making speeches, smiling, unable to pursue her own career, being careful. During the campaign, she was constantly warning the American electorate that they needed to adopt a more realistic, less hagiographic view of her husband; she defended her cracks about his messy household habits by explaining that she was only trying to get people to ratchet down their expectations, to acknowledge that Barack Obama is a human being, because if they thought he walked on water, and it eventually emerged that he did not, they would be extra disappointed. It can’t be fun for her, now, to go around thinking to herself: I told you so. So I don’t believe she used those words in addressing her glamorous but perhaps less than discreet European colleague, but then again, I sort of do.

Photograph of Michelle Obama and Carla Bruni-Sarkozy by Sean Gallup for Getty Images.