MEET MICHELLE OBAMA…. By most measures, Michelle Obama was under quite a bit of pressure last night to deliver a great speech. She’s been the target of some pretty vicious right-wing smears; polls suggest public perceptions of her aren’t entirely positive, and she was, in effect, headlining the opening night of the Democratic National Convention. Michelle Obama isn’t a candidate, she’s never public office, and she’s not necessarily accustomed to delivering a nationally-televised address in prime-time.
And yet, Michelle Obama not only delivered, she flourished.
I suspect the original goal of Michelle’s speech was to help humanize her husband, but she ended up going much further, telling an amazing American story, and one hopes, erasing any doubts about her love of country. She wasn’t just good, and she didn’t just exceed expectations, Michelle Obama couldn’t have been any better. Remember the image of the scary, machine-gun toting woman on the cover of the New Yorker? Yeah, that’s gone now.
CNN’s David Gergen, hardly a Democratic cheerleader, went so far as to say Michelle Obama “rescued” the Democratic convention. “She was extraordinary, talking in ways that were both conversational — always welcome in people’s living room — but also inspiring,” Gergen said. “She spoke in ways that reached out to people of all backgrounds. Democrats should be both proud and grateful.”
If you watch the speech, and I certainly hope you do, you’ll notice a heavy emphasis on the Obamas’ working-class backgrounds. As David Kusnet, a former speechwriter for Bill Clinton explained, the theme should help undermine the Republicans’ preferred attack: “It inoculates her and her husband against the Republican attacks that they’re out-of-touch elitists, in addition to Barack being a secret Muslim, Michelle being ‘bitter,’ and both being anti-American radicals. By revealing her roots in the black working class — and rooting Barack Obama implicitly in the white working class — she refutes right-wing populist attacks that the Obamas look down on working Americans.”
And, of course, there was the important recognition of Hillary Clinton: “I stand here today at the crosscurrents of that history — knowing that my piece of the American Dream is a blessing hard won by those who came before me…. People like Hillary Clinton, who put those 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling, so that our daughters — and sons — can dream a little bigger and aim a little higher.”
I’d be remiss if I neglected to mention the very sweet moment after her speech, when Michelle Obama was joined on stage by her daughters, all of whom spoke to Barack Obama via video. The younger of the two girls kept interrupting the senator to tell him she loved him. As Slate’s John Dickerson noted, “It was a beautiful family tableau…. The whole bunch seemed straight out of Central Casting. That’s a cliche, and for the first black family with a realistic chance of living in the White House, becoming a cliche is a big win.”
Michelle Obama went into last night in need of a re-introduction to the electorate. The one she delivered couldn’t have been much better.