Former first lady Michelle Obama, on a stop in Boston Thursday, rejected any suggestion that she might run for president one day and said history will be the judge of her husband’s legacy compared with that of Donald Trump’s.
“I don’t want to be president; I don’t think I should be president; I think I can do a lot of things, but that’s not one of them,’’ Obama said during keynote remarks at Simmons College’s leadership conference at the Seaport World Trade Center.
She said the nation will, at a certain point, be able to decide on the presidencies of Barack Obama and Trump, whom she did not name.
“We are at a point in time when we have to figure out who we want to be as a nation, and we have had two stark examples of what we want to be. I know what I want to be,’’ she said, citing a country built on compassion, generosity, and goodwill. “We got to fight for that vision. It just doesn’t happen and we can’t take things for granted.”
Obama, 54, has been outspoken on the state of the country since Barack Obama’s presidency ended and voters elected Trump in 2016. She delivered her remarks Thursday during a conversation moderated by the college president, Helen G. Drinan, and attended by scores of women.
Obama shared words of optimism for idealistic millennials pushing for change, urging them to not lose hope and embrace the country’s progress.
But she also took note of the many people, including women and millennials, who failed to vote and thus prevented Hillary Clinton from becoming the nation’s first female president.
“A lot of people sat out, [or were] hedging bets,’’ she said. “Women were not comfortable voting for a woman. . . . We have to own that reality. To me that is the deeper question for us to claim. As women, what happened? What is going on inside of us where we are still afraid to embrace a different vision of leadership?”
She said voters who could have changed the outcome of the 2016 race were looking for a perfect candidate, but there is no such thing.
“The best candidate in [that] race was a woman. And she wasn’t perfect, but she was way” better than the rest, she said.
Addressing millennials, she said, “forward movements” require sometimes accepting that progress is slow.
She said young people who grew up under President Obama saw a black man in the White House and are more liberal generally, taught by their parents to support marriage equality and inclusion, she said. It can be painfully hard for them to see change amid the divisive rhetoric rising in the country, she said.
Progress, she said, will come.
“You do the work because you are slowly moving the needle,’’ she said. “There are times in history when we feel we are going backward. But that is part of the growth . . . that is a hard thing for people to understand.”
Obama brushed aside the question of her making a bid for the White House. She said there are many women who want to run for public office and who aspire to be president — but she is not one of them.
“First of all, you have to want the job, and you just can’t say, ‘You are a woman, run,’ ’’ she said. “I just happened to be married to someone who was involved in politics, and he dragged me kicking and screaming into this arena. Just because I gave a good speech, and I’m smart and intelligent, doesn’t mean I should be the next president. That is not how we should pick the president.”
She said the presidency is the “hardest job on the planet,” one that requires “deep intellect, a knowledge of history, and a knowledge of facts.”
Supporters should find and cultivate a pool of young women who have the passion for higher office, including the presidency, she said. And, she said: Vote for them.
“Those are the women we need to seek out,’’ she said.
Women should be concerned that they missed a chance to have a qualified woman win, she said.
What’s next for Obama? She said she and her husband will devote themselves to the Obama Center project, being built on the South Side of Chicago, where she grew up. The center’s main focus will be to build a generation of leaders.
Irons can be reached at email@example.com.