All weekend Republicans and Democrats wondered whether Michelle Obama, the most important political advisor and surrogate speaker to her husband, would be an asset or liability to Barack Obama when speaking to convention Democrats and 40 million TV viewers at the Democrat National Convention’s opening night in Denver, Colorado.
Michelle Obama, the headline speaker of the evening, walked on stage to rock star applause by an enthralled and moved to tears audience after a short biographical video narrated by her mother and an introduction by her brother Craig Robinson.
Mrs. Obama’s appearance was that of her speech: soft and demure. She opened her speech by telling the convention “I come here as a wife who loves my husband and believes he will make an extraordinary president…I come here as a mother…I come here as a daughter of South-Side Chicago.”
Monday night’s speech had several goals: humanize Barry Obama, soften the Angela Davis militant persona of the pre-convention Michelle Obama, and make sure neither Michelle nor Barry look like wealthy Chicago elitists.
Mrs. Obama accomplished this by telling the Porgy and Bess story of her South-Side Chicago childhood, her father stricken with multiple sclerosis at 35 who struggled to dress himself daily to go to work making a living that sent her and her brother to college, his dying young, his presence she still feels is with her, and her rise to a law firm that led her to choose community service in her South-Side neighborhood where she met Barack Obama.
Much of the speech focused on Mrs. Obama’s father and her south-side Chicago childhood with hardly any reference to her Ivy League education. That was a greatly missed opportunity for a black woman from a low-income black family standing before America as the wife of the Democrats’ first black presidential candidate. Michelle Obama may very well become the first black First Lady; her rise from what she described as a struggle should have been emphasized further and her education should have been stressed to the black Americans she obviously spoke to on what is no doubt a historic night for black America.
Mrs. Obama told the convention, “America should be a place where you can make it.” There Mrs. Obama is wrong: America is the place where all can make it. She missed the opportunity to deliver appropriate words, emphasizing the example in the fact she and her family have accomplished so much, showing how everyone can make it in America. That faux pas was lost as Mrs. Obama once again discussed her father’s illness and working man status with a choked-up voice saying, “This is why I love America.”
Though the statement won roaring cheers and applause, Mrs. Obama needed to discuss why she loves America after a year of controversial comments. The speech may not offer up much to criticize, but it lacked explanatory depth on why she says she’s proud to be an American: the products of the civil rights movement of the 1960s and 70s, the fall of the Berlin Wall, her husband being the first black candidate to make it to the nomination. America should be credited for this progress, but Michelle Obama couldn’t bring herself to do it.
Michelle Obama told Americans “he [Barack] introduced me to the work he’d done in Chicago…instead of going to Wall Street; he chose to go to Chicago.” Still, there was no answer to what Obama has done for south-side Chicago, and that is the lingering question: is Barry Obama ready, fit, and capable to become President of the United States? All Michelle Obama said of her husband was “Barack will bring us together.” She did not say how.
One thing both parties can say about Michelle Obama is that she’s not Teresa Heinz Kerry, who made a spectacle of herself four years ago at the DNC convention. Mrs. Obama never did or said anything that will cause trouble for the DNC her husband. The speech was carefully written and orchestrated to give Michelle Obama a new image as that of loving wife, mother, and community worker who loves her country.
After all the controversy this year, Michelle Obama sold herself as a woman who is not the angry anti-American liability to her husband’s campaign. She never mentioned or criticized the opposition; rather Hillary Clinton, the woman many democrats want as president, received Mrs. Obama’s praise, driving the crowd to thunderous applause.
The Obama’s problems have been elitism and controversial background. Monday night’s speech portrayed Barry and Michelle as the all American Ozzie and Harriet family. If the speech did not charm the crowd, the live appearance via satellite by Barry O congratulating Michelle Obama, who brought her children on stage to say “hello, daddy,” enchanted every Democrat, not to mention Republican reporters, in that convention arena. The close knit family appearance had the effect intended: tastefully dressed devoted wife and mother happy to stand by her husband as Jackie Kennedy did 50 years earlier.