First Lady Michelle Obama closed the opening night of the Democratic National Convention with a stirring speech that cleverly contrasted the beliefs and principles of President Obama and the Democratic Party with those of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney—without resorting to attacks and vitriol.
When the first lady stepped out onto the Charlotte stage in a stunning, shimmering rose-pink and gray dress—custom-made by African-American designer Tracy Reese—she had a much higher bar than most candidate spouses because the crowd in Charlotte and at home know how powerful she can be at the podium. She’s so good that the Obama campaign started calling her “The Closer” in 2008.
Obama didn’t disappoint last night, wowing the crowd, the viewers at home (at least based on the Twitter/Facebook reaction) and the political punditry. The speeches of both Mitt Romney and his wife Ann Romney provided the backdrop for the first lady, who managed to address and counter the contents of those widely acclaimed speeches without mentioning either Mitt or Ann by name, or even remotely referring to them. The first lady had some devastating lines that brought the crowd to its feet in full-throated appreciation.
“We learned about dignity and decency—that how hard you work matters more than how much you make. That helping others means more than just getting ahead yourself,” Obama said, in talking about the similarities in how she was raised in Chicago and Barack in Hawaii by families that didn’t have a great deal of money.
It was a clear reference to one of the most explosive issues being debated on the campaign—how we measure success in America and how much credit should entrepreneurs take for the money they have accumulated.
“We learned about honesty and integrity—that the truth matters,” she said, this time clearly hitting the Republicans for repeating attacks about the president changing welfare requirements that every media observer has said were pure fabrications. “That you don’t take shortcuts or play by your own set of rules. And success doesn’t count unless you earn it fair and square. We learned about gratitude and humility—that so many people had a hand in our success, from the teachers who inspired us to the janitors who kept our school clean. And we were taught to value everyone’s contribution and treat everyone with respect. Those are the values Barack and I—and so many of you—are trying to pass on to our own children. That’s who we are.”
Obama was able to give viewers a vivid sense of what it feels like to be president.
“Today, after so many struggles and triumphs and moments that have tested my husband in ways I never could have imagined, I have seen firsthand that being president doesn’t change who you are—it reveals who you are,” she said in a line that brought loud cheers.
“I’ve gotten to see up close and personal what being president really looks like…At the end of the day, when it comes time to make that decision, as president, all you have to guide you are your values, and your vision, and the life experiences that make you who you are. So when it comes to rebuilding our economy, Barack is thinking about folks like my dad and like his grandmother. He’s thinking about the pride that comes from a hard day’s work.”
Obama connected in a visceral way with the delegates in the audience, bringing many of the gathered men and women to tears as she talked about the difficult decisions her husband faces on a daily basis, the pain he sees across the country, and how he can so easily identify with it because not so long ago it was he and Michelle who were grappling with the same struggles.
“When it comes to the health of our families, Barack refused to listen to all those folks who told him to leave health reform for another day, another president,” she said. “He didn’t care whether it was the easy thing to do politically—that’s not how he was raised—he cared that it was the right thing to do. He did it because he believes that here in America, our grandparents should be able to afford their medicine. Our kids should be able to see a doctor when they’re sick. And no one in this country should ever go broke because of an accident or illness.”
“And he believes that women are more than capable of making our own choices about our bodies and our health care. That’s what my husband stands for,” she continued. “When it comes to giving our kids the education they deserve, Barack knows that like me and like so many of you, he never could’ve attended college without financial aid. And believe it or not, when we were first married, our combined monthly student loan bills were actually higher than our mortgage. We were so young, so in love, and so in debt.”
As she did throughout the speech, Michelle was able to link the president’s personal beliefs and feelings to policies he has championed—which contrasts with allegations that have been leveled at Romney since he first started running that the policies he is pushing are not consistent with what he has said he believes in earlier in his career in Massachusetts.
“That’s why Barack has fought so hard to increase student aid and keep interest rates down, because he wants every young person to fulfill their promise and be able to attend college without a mountain of debt,” she said. “So in the end, for Barack, these issues aren’t political—they’re personal. Because Barack knows what it means when a family struggles. He knows what it means to want something more for your kids and grandkids. Barack knows the American Dream because he’s lived it, and he wants everyone in this country to have that same opportunity, no matter who we are, or where we’re from, or what we look like, or who we love.”
As she closed the speech and talked about her “most important title” as the nation’s “mom in chief,” Obama’s eyes started glistening and viewers could see her fighting back tears.
“My daughters are still the heart of my heart and the center of my world,” she said, choking up. “But today, I have none of those worries from four years ago about whether Barack and I were doing what’s best for our girls. Because today, I know from experience that if I truly want to leave a better world for my daughters, and all our sons and daughters, if we want to give all our children a foundation for their dreams and opportunities worthy of their promise, if we want to give them that sense of limitless possibility— that belief that here in America, there is always something better out there if you’re willing to work for it—then we must work like never before. And we must once again come together and stand together for the man we can trust to keep moving this great country forward: my husband, our president, President Barack Obama.”