Michelle Obama Gives a Master Class in Political Oratory

All day yesterday when the headlines were full of “Democrats in Disarray” stories, I decided to simply bide my time because I knew that the line-up of speakers in Philadelphia last night was going to put all that to rest. Sure, there were a few hecklers. But Sarah Silverman finally said what we were all thinking: “You’re being ridiculous.” It was the classic schoolmarm dismissal to children throwing a tantrum.

In the end, Bernie Sanders took his well-deserved final victory lap and heartily endorsed Hillary Clinton. Elizabeth Warren landed the kind of punches against Donald Trump that we’ve come to expect from her. And Michelle Obama gave us a master class in the power of political oratory.

There are several things the First Lady did that made her speech so effective. She began by grounding the entire speech in the one thing she absolutely values more than anything else in the world…her children.

That is what Barack and I think about every day as he tried to guide and protect our girls from the challenges of this unusual life in the spotlight. How we urged them to ignore those who question their father’s citizenship or faith. How we insist that the hateful language they hear from public figures on TV does not represent the true spirit of this country. How we explain that when someone is cruel or acts like a bully, you don’t stoop to their level. Our motto is, when they go low, we go high.

That made it possible for her to frame this election as being one about the future of our children in a way that every parent could relate to without sounding cliche. It also introduced one of the most important features of her speech. She was able to lay waste to the shenanigans of Donald Trump without ever saying his name. She lived out that motto: “when they go low, we go high.” It is her children – along with all of ours – who need to be the focus. Later on, she put it this way:

And when I think about the kind of president that I want for my girls and all our children, that is what I want. I want someone with the proven strength to persevere.

Somebody who knows this job and takes it seriously. Somebody who understands that the issues of our nation are not black or white. It cannot be boiled down to 140 characters. Because when you have the nuclear codes at your fingertips and the military in your command, you can’t make snap decisions. You can’t have thin skin or a tendency to lash out. You need to be steady and measured and well-informed.

I want a president with a record of public service. Someone whose life’s work shows our children that we don’t chase fame and fortune for ourselves; we fight to give everyone a chance to succeed. And we give back even when we are struggling ourselves because we know that there there is someone worse off. There but for the grace of God, go I. I want a president who will teach our children that everyone in this country matters.

But Michelle was there last night to tell us why she supports Hillary Clinton to be our next president. Here is the portrait she painted:

Hillary has spent decades doing the relentless work to actually make a difference in their lives. Advocating for kids with disabilities as a young lawyer, fighting for children’s health care as first lady, and for quality child care in the senate.

And when she did not win the nomination eight years ago, she did not get angry or disillusioned. Hillary did not pack up and go home because … Hillary knows that this is so much bigger than her own disappointment. She proudly stepped up to serve our country once again as secretary of state, traveling the globe to keep our kids safe. There were moments when Hillary could have decided that this work was too hard, that the price of public service was too high, that she was tired of being [torn] apart for how she looked, or how she talked, or even how she laughed.

But here’s the thing: What I admire most about Hillary is that she never buckles under pressure.

She never takes the easy way out. And Hillary Clinton has never quit on anything in her life.

Finally, she gave us a story of American that is the opposite of the one painted at the other party’s convention and brought it back to her hopes for her own daughters.

That is the story of this country. The story that has brought me to the stage tonight. The story of generations of people who felt the lash of bondage, the shame of servitude, the sting of segregation, who kept on striving, and hoping, and doing what needed to be done. So that today, I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves. And I watch my daughters — two beautiful intelligent black young women — play with the dog on the White House lawn

And because of Hillary Clinton, my daughters and all of our sons and daughters now take for granted that a woman can be president of the United States.

Don’t let anyone ever tell you that this country is not great. That somehow we need to make it great again. Because this right now is the greatest country on Earth.

And as my daughters set out on the world, I want a leader who is worthy of that truth, a leader worthy of my girls’ promise and all of our kids’ promise. A leader who will be guided every day by the love and hope and impossibly big dreams that we all have for our children.

Perhaps the final reason this speech was so powerful is that it was clear that Michelle Obama feels this down to her bones. She didn’t raise her voice or shout. She spoke from a place deep inside her heart. And when she talked about our sons and daughters taking for granted that a woman can be president, she fought back the tears…and so did I.

Someone watching from home was also pretty impressed.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.