Michelle Obama: The antidote to ‘you didn’t build that’

September 5, 2012

It's a tired old cliche by now: a male politician's wife is his best character witness.

But Barack Obama doesn't need a new dose of likeability right now; he needs an economic messenger. And in between platitudes about what a great man and great father he is, Michelle Obama was just that on Tuesday.


The First Lady, in her primetime address on the first night of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., offered perhaps the clearest counterargument to date to Republican attacks on President Obama's "you didn't build that" comment.

Michelle Obama recapped the American Dream experienced by both her and her husband's families, emphasizing individual initiative in a way that the Obama campaign hasn't been able to in recent weeks.

"Like so many American families, our families weren’t asking for much," she said. "They didn’t begrudge anyone else’s success or care that others had much more than they did. In fact, they admired it."

The words here are no accident; they are a direct retort to the GOP's argument that Obama and the Democrats are running a campaign pitting the middle class against successful Americans like Mitt Romney.

At the same time, Michelle Obama emphasized that money isn't the be-all, end-all, and that her husband, for instance, took a lower-paying job in community organizing rather than a high-paying job at a big firm out of law school.

"Because for Barack, success isn’t about how much money you make, it’s about the difference you make in people’s lives," she said.

None of this is new; Obama's life story and humble roots are all well-worn territory. But in a campaign in which Republicans insist they are getting traction by using lines like "you didn't build that" against Obama, it's been a little absent.

For Democrats, the prevailing narrative in the campaign is trending dangerously toward them embracing big government and shunning the pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps American ideal.

Recent Washington Post-ABC News polling shows many Americans see the president as a big-government guy, and significantly more see that as a negative rather than a positive.

But Michelle Obama argued that a government's role and individual initiative don't have to be at odds with each other. And that's a message that has been missing in recent weeks.

The more the Obama campaign can drive this point home, the more it can mitigate whatever damage has been caused by "you didn't build that."

And as a First Lady with a significantly better image than her husband -- recent polling shows about two-thirds of Americans view her favorably -- she can drive that point home arguably better than just about anybody else.

GOP Senate candidate Mourdock launches 'better off' ad: The GOP's focus on the "are you better off" question is making its way into Republican campaign ads.

Indiana GOP Senate candidate Richard Mourdock, who finds himself in a closer-than-expected race with Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) in a conservative state, is debuting a new ad that attacks Donnelly and Obama on that question.

"It’s tough to find anyone better off now than they were four years ago," Mourdock says directly to the camera. "Washington politicians like President Obama and Congressman Donnelly had their chance, but they’ve only made things worse."

The ad will begin running on statewide broadcast TV starting this evening.

Democrats launch Ryan-Medicare ad: Not to be outdone, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is going up with an independent expenditure ad that promises to be mimicked in the coming weeks.

The ad hits freshman Rep. Chris Gibson (R-N.Y.) for voting in favor of GOP vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.) budget and its plan to partially turn Medicare into a voucher program.

"Chris Gibson said he was different. When Chris Gibson joined the Republican crowd in Congress and voted to essentially end Medicare, Chris Gibson voted for Paul Ryan's budget that leaves seniors at the mercy of the insurance industry," the narrator says.

The ad buy is $341,000, according to the DCCC.

Fixbits:

Cory Booker redeems himself with a rousing speech -- when basically nobody was watching.

One of the better-received moments of the night: A tribute to Ted Kennedy featuring footage of his 1994 debate with Romney.

Top former Clinton aide Doug Band says he's voting Obama, despite a New Yorker report that he's told friends he's voting for Romney.

The new Democratic Party platform includes significant scaling back of its pro-Israel language. Also, the word "God" no longer appears in it.

Former Virginia congressman Virgil Goode (R) has made the ballot in that state running on the Constitution Party line -- a potential blow to Romney.

Must-reads:

"Democratic Party platform: An uneven progression over the years" -- Marc Fisher, Washington Post

"Welcome to the MSNBC, Er, Democratic Convention" -- Ashley Parker and Michael Barbaro, New York Times

"Paul Ryan rebuts claims he made misleading statements in convention speech" -- Jerry Markon and Felicia Sonmez, Washington Post

"Siemens plant in Charlotte offers lessons as Obama, Romney talk job creation" -- Lori Montgomery, Washington Post

"What is Obama's second-term plan?" -- Dan Balz, Washington Post

"Latino vote not set in stone for Obama" -- Hector Becerra, Los Angeles Times

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.
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