Amazing speech. Parents of every political stripe seem to agree that Michelle Obama blew away her audience last night, with a first lady speech that raises the bar for first spouses, not to mention President Clinton, from here on out.
In her close, however, she uttered a phrase that we’ve heard many times in the last four years and that needs to be voted out of office. That would be “mom-in-chief.”
“You see, at the end of the day, my most important title is still ‘mom-in-chief,’ she declared after delivering a rousing recitation of our country’s populist history.
“My daughters are still the heart of my heart and the center of my world.”
Wait, she went from a paragraph about farmers and blacksmiths defeating an empire, women being dragged to jail for the right to vote, Americans persevering through the Great Depression with a beautiful hat-tip to Martin Luther King to … “mom-in-chief”?
It was oratorical whiplash.
It was also a dud.
On Twitter, one viewer drew several nodding tweets with her lament:“I long for the day when powerful women don’t need to assure Americans that they’re moms above all else.”
Last night Michelle Obama was a woman who was doing it, pushing the crowd to its feet and pulling tears from the eyes of supporters watching it on TV. Why would this powerhouse of a woman delivering a knockout speech then conclude on a phrase that is at best corny and at worst degrading?
Yes, I understand that this first lady and her advisers want to make sure she is non-threatening to voters who question whether her husband’s policies are too radical. But in the process do they have to make so many of us groan?
I am a mother and feel blessed to be one. I am often exhausted and aghast at the workload parenting demands. The experience certainly informs my ideas, but it does not define them. Neither does it contain them.
Back in 2008, Rebecca Traister wrote a scathing indictment of the phrase for Salon:
“… with progress comes inevitable regress, and in our stouthearted dash to fit this family into a comfortably familiar tableau, we have fallen back into other, far too familiar, cultural traps: you know, like forgetting everything we’ve learned in recent decades about female achievement and identity.”
Her Salon colleague Irin Carmon Tuesday night pointed out that not only was the phrase a “let down,” but the video introducing Obama left out her educational and professional achievements, too.
An interesting contrast was the keynote speech just before Michelle Obama’s. San Antonio mayor Julian Castro referred to his daughter repeatedly and the camera cut away to show the adorable three-year-old using her video reflection as a mirror. It was a nice moment that triggered for me, as a parent of a child of similar age and vanity, a smile.
But Castro’s point was not that he is a father above all else, and that his daughter is the center of his universe. He talked about his daughter to make a point about immigration.
At the podium, he felt obligated, and was allowed by handlers, to talk about substantive ideas. He felt no need to bring his message back around to the personal.
What did you think of Michelle Obama’s speech? Did the “mom-in-chief” line elevate it for you or mar it?