Politics & Policy

Michelle Obama Says ‘Amen’

America's angriest would-be First Lady wows 'em in Charlotte.

Charlotte, N.C. — “Tomorrow, we shall achieve the victory, that the kingdom of God may come on earth as it is in heaven, and all those who love the Lord and will vote for Obama, say Amen.”


When it comes to giving a rip-roaring pre-election invocation, you just can’t do better than Rev. Joseph Lowery. The 86-year-old civil-rights legend has come to the Ovens Auditorium here in Charlotte to work the crowd, perhaps 1,000-strong, into a prayerful mood before the last North Carolina appearance of Michelle Obama, wife of the man whose election will herald the coming of the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. And as Lowery gets going, it’s clear he’s waited for this moment for a very long time.

“I remember, Lord, when Martin and others of us were in 1957, in New Orleans, we knew one day this day would come,” Lowery begins. “We didn’t know when or where, but we knew after Martin said, Lord, to this nation, ‘Give us the ballot.’”

Yes,” says the crowd.

“We didn’t know, Lord, that you were going to place so much significance on the great state of North Carolina — ”

“That’s right –”

“but we know the people of North Carolina are able to bear the burden, and to meet the challenge, and to pass the test, and tomorrow the people of North Carolina will give climax to the campaign that seeks to lift America to another level — ”

“Uh-huh — ”

“to higher ground.”

“That’s right — ”

“And so, Lord, we thank you that we have in this campaign and this election an opportunity in this election to move America from the dark valley of doubt to the mountaintop of hope.”

“Yes — ”

“To those days when black will not be asked to get back — ”

“That’s right — ”

“when brown can stick around — ”

“Uh-huh — ”

“when yellow can be mellow, when the red man can get ahead, and when white will see the light.”

“Yes — ”

When Lowery comes to his close, when he exhorts everyone who loves the Lord and will vote for Obama to say ‘Amen,’ there’s a huge roar of applause, perhaps because those present do not just plan to vote for Barack Obama — they’ve already voted for him. Judging by a show of hands a few moments later, the great majority of this nearly all-black crowd has already cast their ballots. Officials at the state Democratic party tell me that of the 430,498 North Carolinians who voted early in this race, 153,832 are African-Americans. That’s about 35 percent of the Democratic electorate — pretty much in line with earlier projections. And if, as has been the case in earlier primaries, about 90 percent voted for Obama, then North Carolina could be well on its way toward lifting America to higher ground.

But Mrs. Obama, the star attraction, is taking no chances. Walking onstage to chants of “Yes, we can!” and “Fired up — ready to go!” she quickly gets to the heart of her message: There are forces out there who are trying to take away everything Barack has worked for. They — she doesn’t mention anyone in particular but does refer to one “brand name politician” — are trying to win this election for themselves and thereby deny Obama the opportunity to move America to the mountaintop of hope. And they must be stopped.

“We’ve learned that we’re still living in a time and in a nation where the bar is set, right?” she tells the crowd.

“That’s right.”

“They tell you all you need to do is do these things and you’ll get to the bar — ”


“So you go about the business of doing those things — ”

“Yes — ”

Her husband has been doing just that, Obama explains — raising money, building an organization, winning caucuses, winning primaries, and amassing a large number of delegates. And yet he still hasn’t won, because nothing is ever enough for those unnamed adversaries.

“You start working hard and sacrificing, and you think you’re getting closer to the bar, you’re working and you’re struggling, you get right to that bar, you’re reaching out for the bar, and then what happens?”

“They raise the bar!”

“They raise the bar. Raise the bar. Shift it to the side. Keep it just out of reach.”


“And that’s just what’s been happening in this race.”

Mrs. Obama begins a long riff about how that is happening not just to her husband but to Americans as a whole, who are working hard only to find the benefits of their work kept just out of reach. “You know what happens when you live in a society where the vast majority of people are struggling every day to reach an ever-shifting and moving bar?” she asks. “You know what happens in that kind of society?”

“THEY GET FRUSTRATED!” yells a man in the audience.

That’s right, Obama says. And that frustration leaves people isolated and afraid, and then “we pass on all that negative energy to the next generation.” She tells the story of a ten-year-old girl she met in Newberry, S.C., before that state’s primary. “It was in a little beauty shop, and we were having a rally — it was me and a bunch of women and a couple of brothers,” she recalls. After the rally, the girl came up to her and said, with great seriousness, “Do you realize when your husband becomes the next president of the United States, it will be historical?”

Everybody laughs; what a cute thing for a child to say. But then Obama asked the little girl what that would mean for her. “It means that I can imagine anything for myself,” the girl said.

The crowd begins to applaud; they think they’re hearing a happy, inspiring story. But that’s not where Mrs. Obama is going.

“And then that little girl started to break down in tears,” she continues. “She sobbed so hard. She was crying big, huge tears. And I had to think, why is this little girl crying so hard? And I thought, you know what’s going on? This little old girl gets it.”

“Yeah — ”

“This little ten-year-old girl knows what’s at stake.”

“That’s right — ”

“She knows that she’s already five steps behind — “

“Mmm-huh — ”

“She knows that her hopes for college are already dwindling —

“Yes — ”

“She knows that if she gets sick, maybe has an asthma attack, instead of going to a doctor and being treated, she’s going to be sitting in an emergency room for hours on end.”

“That’s right — ”

In short, Obama says, the little girl, just ten, knows that the bar has been moved far away from her, and she “feels that veil of impossibility, and it is suffocating her.”

“This little girl is in all of us,” Obama concludes.

“Mmm-huh — ”

Even Michelle Obama herself. “I’m not supposed to be here,” she tells the crowd. “I am a statistical oddity. As a black girl raised on the south side of Chicago, I’m not supposed to be here. I wasn’t supposed to go to Princeton. They said my test scores were too high” — surely a verbal slip, because in the past she has said she was told her test scores were too low — “I wasn’t supposed to go to Harvard Law School, because they said it might be a little too hard for me. And I certainly am not supposed to be standing here with a chance to become the next first lady of the United States of America.”

But here she is, in just that position — only to find that they, as always, are trying to raise the bar a little higher, just out of her and her husband’s reach. Still, she asks the crowd “to close your eyes and do some dreaming…to dream of the day that a man like Barack Obama is standing in front of the Capitol with his hand on the Bible.” With that, the audience erupts into shouting and applause. They’re fired up and ready to go, and all those who love the Lord and will vote for Obama say “Amen.”


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