Michelle Obama says she won't run for president

Speaking at SXSW, the first lady talks about the importance of education for young girls, the record album that influenced her the most -- and life after the White House.

Richard Nieva Former senior reporter
Richard Nieva was a senior reporter for CNET News, focusing on Google and Yahoo. He previously worked for PandoDaily and Fortune Magazine, and his writing has appeared in The New York Times, on CNNMoney.com and on CJR.org.
Richard Nieva
3 min read

Michelle Obama isn't planning a second stint in the White House after she leaves in January.

"Will you run for president?" rapper Queen Latifah asked the first lady Wednesday at the South by Southwest tech, film and music conference here in Austin, Texas. The crowd of more than 2,000 people burst into applause.

"I will not run for president," Obama said to sighs from the audience attending her keynote moderated by Latifah. "Here's one of the reasons why: I've got these two young people at home.

"Being the daughters of a president -- not so easy," she continued. "They've handled it with grace and poise, but enough is enough."

The first lady was both playful and thoughtful as she contemplated life after her husband, President Barack Obama, leaves office. (She broke into a line of "It's So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday" by Boyz II Men when first asked about the end of the term.) President Barack Obama spoke at SXSW on Friday, the first time a sitting president has ever delivered a speech at the 30-year-old festival.

The Obamas will be just the latest to join the ex-first couple club. George and Laura Bush have stayed out of the public eye since they left the White House, though both campaign for global health care and education reform through the George W. Bush Institute. Bill Clinton actively supports global issues, such as increasing opportunities for women and girls and reducing childhood obesity, with the Clinton Foundation. Hillary Clinton, of course, is running for president.

Michelle Obama said the role of first lady is a unique platform, but didn't provide specifics about what she will do next.

"When I leave here, there will be another platform. There's always another platform," she said. "But I don't know what it will feel like."

The first lady did say she plans to continue the kind of work she's done as part of the Obama administration. That work focused on four areas: Giving more girls access to education through the Let Girls Learn initiative; battling childhood obesity with the Let's Move program; encouraging young people to pursue higher education or professional training through Reach Higher and, along with Jill Biden, supporting veterans and their families through Joining Forces.

"These are issues that won't go away during a presidential term," she said. "They don't go away in a lifetime."

A seat at the table

Michelle Obama was at SXSW specifically to tout Let Girls Learn. The White House says more than 62 million girls around the world are not in school, half of them adolescents. Launched last March, Let Girls Learn is a joint effort of several government agencies and organizations, including the US Department of State, the US Agency for International Development and the Peace Corps.

She was joined onstage by rapper Missy Elliott, songwriter Diane Warren and actress Sophia Bush, who talked about helping women to overcome inequality. The women shared stories of their past, their struggles and even the music that influenced their lives. (The first lady cited Stevie Wonder's "Talking Book," which her grandfather gave her.)

On Tuesday, Michelle Obama helped to record a women-empowerment anthem called "This is For My Girls." The first lady doesn't actually sing on that recording, but she did get the artists to collaborate on it. Written by Warren, the song features Elliott, Kelly Clarkson, Kelly Rowland, Janelle Monae, Lea Michele, Zendaya, Jadagrace and Chloe & Halle.

Chloe & Halle, a duo signed to Beyonce's record label, performed the single before the panel took the stage.

The song was executive produced by Makers.com, an AOL-owned website that highlights the stories of women. Warren has likened the song to "We Are the World," the star-studded charity single from 1985.

The first lady on Wednesday also talked about how men can empower women. She said the key for men is to always push for diversity.

"When you have a seat at the table -- and have access to power -- the question you can ask yourself is, 'Is there diversity around the table?" she said. "Are there voices and opinions that don't sound like yours?

"There are a lot of men-only tables going on in this country and around the world," she continued. "And the only people who can change that are the men at the table."

Obama also talked about grassroots organizing and making a difference. "You don't have to be president to do that," she said. "I don't plan on slowing down anytime soon."