The Campaign Spot

Last Night, the Obama Campaign Conceded Michelle’s Old Rhetoric Won’t Sell

Since Michelle Obama first started getting attention for her campaign trail rhetoric — “for the first time in my adult life, I’m proud of my country,” America is “just downright mean” — we’ve heard from her defenders that it was just fine — a strength, really. We just didn’t get it, they assured us. Audiences loved her. She was honest, and raw, and direct, and told it like it was, in a way that Americans really appreciated. A lot of Americans felt betrayed by circumstances in their country, and they loved seeing someone articulate how they really felt.

And then, last night, in front of the biggest audience she’ll probably ever address… it was all “America is peaches and cream,” as Jay Nordlinger just said to me. No ripping America’s leaders, no lamenting the rampant injustice of daily American life, no “we’re guided by fear” or “comfortable in our own ignorance.”
No, Team Obama scrapped every last bit of that style, and replaced it with, “In my own life, in my own small way, I have tried to give back to this country that has given me so much” and “in this great country, where a girl from the South Side of Chicago can go to college and law school.” She went from Michael Moore to Toby Keith overnight.
It turns out, when it came to assessing her comments on the trail, we were right all along. Michelle Obama’s old rhetoric was repellent to most Americans, and too much attention on it would doom the chances of her husband winning this election.
Apology accepted, David Axelrod…
…Discussing the convention last night, I noted that Joe Biden is likely to give a fine speech Wednesday, but that the real risk will come a week later, or a month later, or sometime in the future when his mouth disconnects from his brain and he lets out another comment about Indians working at 7-11 or clean African-Americans or some other off-key, controversial, unflattering comment.
And that future-statement-risk is what is going to make Michelle Obama a bit of a risk from here on out. There was little to object to in last night’s speech. She looked stunning, her speech was sunny mush, and her children were the cutest brood this side of the Huxtables . Katherine Marsh of The New Republic preemptively worried about the “Stepfordization” of Michelle. Well, it happened, and the result probably achieved what the Obama campaign wanted.
But sooner or later, Michelle is very likely to return to her “traditional” rhetoric on the campaign trail. She’s going to start painting a dire, gloomy picture of an America where the working class is squashed and dreams are crushed by the powerful on a daily basis. And when it does, it will provide an opportunity for Obama opponents to argue, “That nice woman you saw in Denver is the mask. The real Michelle is the woman who is only now proud of her country, and who thinks it is usually ‘just downright mean.’”

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