Everyone loves Michelle Obama. This is a statement as uncontroversial as “I support America’s military” and “Gee, inequality of opportunity is terrible.” To love Michelle Obama is as uncontroversial as to denounce Todd Akin.
So it should have come as no surprise that her speech went over with a bang.
It came on a night of many bangs. To judge by their speeches, no one at the Democratic National Convention can stand to look at a Swiss bank account. When Swiss Bank Accounts approach them in the street, they spit in their faces. Swiss Bank Accounts do not build bridges! And as much as they hate Swiss Bank Accounts, the DNC attendees love bridges and roads.
Also, they can’t stand Mitt Romney.
Former Governor Strickland of Ohio said that if Mitt Romney were Santa, he’d fire the reindeer and outsource the elves! Certainly this would be more efficient than the present system (reindeer, thanks to what one assumes must be an active union, only work one day a year; you pour years of training into a single elf, and then he vanishes into the West, never to return, or takes an offer from Keebler.) But what about the American way?
Mayor Julian Castro gave an inspiring speech. Deval Patrick gave a pugnacious speech. But Michelle Obama reduced the audience to tears.
The hallmark of the first lady’s almost alarming popularity is the fact that her key initiative has been to go across the country telling Americans that their kids are too fat, and 64 percent of Americans still view her favorably. In contrast, I once mistook someone’s child for a beached whale, gently, a single time, and now I can’t show my face in Cleveland. I am just saying, Michelle Obama has a power I do not understand, and could never have.
But tonight she did even more with it. Following in the steps of Chris Christie, she failed to mention Mitt Romney a single time. Instead, she spoke feelingly about being America’s “Mom in Chief”, about her roots and her parents’ struggles and the need to pull together. She teared up. The audience teared up. Their tears teared up. Several elderly misers opened their windows and began flinging all their possessions at street urchins.
We thought Ann Romney’s speech was impressive, but even Ann Romney’s speech was impressed by Michelle Obama’s speech. Compared to this, Ann Romney’s “I LOVE WOMEN” shows up as hamfisted pandering. Michelle was fighting back tears. She is the Mom in Chief!
If you took each sentence apart or if you handed them to anyone who lacked Michelle Obama’s warm, convincing delivery, you might have wondered what the magic was. “We learned about honesty and integrity - that the truth matters…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,” she said. “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.” And where do you stand on apple pie and motherhood? “You see, at the end of the day, my most important title is still “mom-in-chief…My daughters are still the heart of my heart and the center of my world.” Aha.
I say this as someone who was frantically scrambling for Kleenex for the last ten minutes of the speech. Had anyone forwarded me one of those oddly persistent Obama fundraising emails, even one with a creepy subject line, I might even have opened it. I was far gone.
Then again, it was hard not to be. If there was a single point in Michelle Obama’s speech that anyone would be willing to disagree with, I’ll eat one of those ubiquitous convention cowboy hats. That is the whole point of First Lady speeches. She began by talking about the sacrifice of military families, hardly a controversial topic, before segueing into her inspiring family story, life with Barack, and her hopes for her daughters. You couldn’t find anything to critique, If you sat down intending to shout angrily at the television the best you could do was point out timidly that you stood at the altar “with whom you love,” not “with who you love.” And that seemed petty.
It offered, at times, an unsubtle contrast with Romney, stressing that “data” and “numbers” were no way to solve things that came across the President’s desk. No, Michelle said, at times like that, it mattered that Barack Obama was Like You and understood your story — Really Understood, not just in the theoretical way that you understand the American story if your governess read you numerous Horatio Alger novels. It was brutal.
It was a delicious speech. I ate it up.
Its contents were nil, but, as the Internet murmured in unison, what more does one expect from a first lady’s speech? Substance? No. Of course not. For someone famously associated with broccoli, this speech was heavy on the spun sugar and light on the iron. But it was sweet indeed.