The convention planners really did play “Isn’t she lovely?” — a patronizing, 1960s, pre-feminist ode to the values that Michelle was trying to associate with herself — as she finished her speech. So hokey. Hillary would never have tolerated it, had anyone thought to play it for her.
Michelle hit the ball out of the park, I could not help thinking. The speechwriter did a brilliant job, given the task at hand, which was to make a somewhat unpleasant, maybe angry woman seem like a nicer version of the mom next door — wherever you live. If one did not know all that one knows about her, her thoughts about the country, her religious choices, etc… why you’d want her to be your BFF. I would. The speech was well crafted to reassure white Americans who may be skeptical about who the Obamas are — by piling up details, starting with the Brady Bunch, dwelling on her mom and her dad, and their sacrifices, and her role as a mom, conveying values to the next generation. Showcasing her very articulate, soft-spoken brother was a great touch for family values. The Robinson family appears more together than most political families – -which perhaps made it easier for Michelle to speak about her great love for her father and her husband in a way that sounded natural and inviting.
Michelle looked wonderful in that soft dress. A smart man I know who had a lot to do with the Giuliani campaign, from which he walked away in disgust, told me that he saw the role of First Lady essentially as an acting job. (Judith Giuliani was incapable of playing the role, at great cost to that campaign.) Michelle, who is normally tough in her speeches, full of anger toward Bush and McCain, full of didactic, liberal policy points and whose humor is inside, aren’t we swell stuff, would get the part after tonight’s audition. She seemed intelligent, soft and feminine. There were no hard edges, much grace and the kind of generosity of spirit that marks a great lady. So much so that I was certain she spent a lot of time with a speech coach, working on inflection and facial expression (as all candidates should). Hillary should have done that years ago — not this past year.
The bit about how Barack showed her the difference between the world as it was and as it ought to be… and voting our dreams instead of our fears — was a nice story line to explain what, precisely, a community organizer does, and make it seem like a normal, somewhat idealistic, job choice. Do I believe that Michelle left her law firm because she wanted to help the next generation make a difference in the community? Not a chance. She was the next generation, and money was important important to her. But her job tonight was to sell a middle class narrative about herself. She, after all, is the easy part, since an American black woman from South Chicago, with a father who was a city employee (which is not precisely the same thing as “working class,” — and she left out the part about the income from the no-show Daley machine job — ) who got to Princeton and Harvard Law School, is someone who most of us feel we can relate to. Or have seen, anyway.
She did a less good job of normalizing Barack, who remains exotic. I would be a little more impressed by her references to his working class grandparents who sacrificed to make sure he had greater opportunities than they did — if I hadn’t read that while in Hawaii last week only he went to visit grandma. No kids, no Michelle.
To her credit, Michelle Obama did exactly what needed to be done tonight. She is serious enough about winning that she was willing to leave out the substance. Whatever vanity she has about her political/intellectual seriousness is less than her ambition. That is truly impressive. Whatever cynics like me might think, there were many wet eyes in that room. And there were more African American faces looking with deep pride at this impressive woman, giving a wonderful speech, looking like very serious political player herself, and a world class political wife. Does she really love her country? Standing at that podium, with the nation’s eyes upon her, how could it be otherwise. Brava!