Michelle Obama’s speech was quite effective. Here were the five keys to its successes:
1) Make Barack One of Us. She gave us an affecting portrait of her own family, like so many families in America, and then said of Barack, “even though he had this funny name, even though he’d grown up all the way across the continent in Hawaii, his family was so much like mine.”
2) Emphasize the Working Class. Michelle’s parents were working class, as she was “raised on the South Side of Chicago by a father who was a blue collar city worker, and a mother who stayed at home with my brother and me.”
So were Barack’s grandparents: “He was raised by grandparents who were working class folks just like my parents, and by a single mother who struggled to pay the bills just like we did.”
So were the people he tried to help in Chicago as a community organizer: “The people gathered together that day were ordinary folks doing the best they could to build a good life. They were parents living paycheck to paycheck; grandparents trying to get by on a fixed income; men frustrated that they couldn’t support their families after their jobs disappeared.”
And so are the people Michelle has met on the campaign trail: “People who work the day shift, kiss their kids goodnight, and head out for the night shift — without disappointment, without regret — that goodnight kiss a reminder of everything they’re working for.”
3) Elevate Work as the Supreme Value. She told of how her father, weakened by illness, didn’t give into the weakness of his body: “He just woke up a little earlier, and worked a little harder.” She put work first in the litany of values she and Barack learned from their families: “Barack and I were raised with so many of the same values: that you work hard for what you want in life,” etc. And she said of the people in the neighborhoods where Barack was a community organizer: “They were ready to work — they wanted to contribute.” The word “work” is all over the speech.
4) Score One for the Patriarchy. Fatherhood, old-fashioned fatherhood, was a stirring theme. She talked movingly of her father: “My dad was our rock. Although he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in his early thirties, he was our provider, our champion, our hero.” And near the end, she talked of Obama as father, that figure–should he live up to his responsibilities–that is so deeply reassuring. She described him returning with her and their first daughter from the hospital, “determined to give her everything he’d struggled so hard for himself, determined to give her what he never had: the affirming embrace of a father’s love.”
5) Have Cute Kids. The Obama kids stole the show during Barack’s brief video cameo, talking to their daddy and nicely punctuating everything that had come before.