The Root: Michelle Obama and the Democratic Convention

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Marjorie Valbrun
Contributor to The Root
Wednesday, August 27, 2008; 12:00 PM

Writing for The Root about Michelle Obama's address to the Democratic Convention, journalist Marjorie Valbrun says: "Michelle's speech represented a conscious shedding of any attributes that could be even remotely suggestive of an 'angry black woman.' It represented the debunking of stereotypes attached to her by some in the media who portrayed her as sassy, pushy and overly opinionated.

"I got it. Watching her speak to the enthusiastic crowd that packed Denver's Pepsi Center, I recognized that careful calibration that accomplished women, especially black women, have to work into their dealings with people uncomfortable with their talents, achievements and self-assurance."

Valbrun was online Wednesday, August 27 to discuss her articles for The Root on Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton and other speakers at this week's Democratic Convention.

A transcript follows.

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Marjorie Valbrun: Hello Everyone,

Thanks for taking the time to comment. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Marjorie

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washingtonpost.com: We're having a few technical difficulties but will be with you soon. Thanks for your patience.

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Hampton: During Hillary's speech, they frequently cut to Michelle Obama. She looked like she was staring daggers at Hillary. Is that just how Michelle looks, or is there bad blood there?

Marjorie Valbrun: I didn't notice any evil eye or invisible daggers coming from Michelle Obama. In fact, I think she was careful not to reveal any emotion in her facial expressions so as to not have viewers, and especially reporters, try to read too much into her supposed thoughts. Her face did soften into a smile though when Clinton referred to her as a great mom and future first lady.

I don't know if there is any specific bad blood between them but given the well-publicized tensions between the two campaigns, there might be some "issues."

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Norfolk: I'm beginning to worry about Thursday night. Hillary looked serious last night. But with the rock star stadium, the celebrities, and the unrelenting media hype, doesn't Obama risk coming off as less serious? And isn't the bar set impossibly high? If Obama comes out with a version of his stump speech, he'll be panned because it'll bore the media who've seen it a thousand times. If he just uses soaring rhetoric, he's risking a "where's the beef?" complaint. But if he comes out with anything new, he's a flip-flopper. How does he thread the needle? I know the media will praise him for his speaking skills, but it's a given now that he'll perform flawlessly. Doesn't he need more than great TelePrompter skills to get the gold on Thursday?

Marjorie Valbrun: The bar is set very high but you can bet that he and his handlers have been preparing and practicing relentlessly. He is a smart guy and has smart people working for him, I'm sure they understand that speech will be among his most important, if not the most important of his political career, and that they will make sure it strikes a balance between being inspirational and substantive. He writes a lot of his own speeches and is a big thinker, I'm willing to bet the speech won't be rehash of old stuff.

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Alexandria, VA: Hi there. I'm a 46-year-old, white female Democrat. I was so inspired, so proud, so impressed with Hillary's speech last night, many moments in the privacy of my home I stood, I clapped, I cheered and whooped, I think I even cried. I just kept thinking WOW. WOW, is she good. WOW what a great climax to an exciting run, an honorable exit in one sense and revving up to a new, higher objective on the other. Well done!

Then this morning I'm reading skepticism, sour grapes, of "sadness and anger." WHAT?! Somebody says she will work as hard for McCain as she had for Hillary. WHAT?! Some people are leaving early, will not even stay to hear Obama out. Unfathomable.

Gimme a break! This is why Republicans so often win. I believe we are right, again and again, on the issues, crucial issues about which we are supposedly impassioned, but this lack of fortitude, discipline and maturity is our Achilles heel.

We cannot always get our way, yet as Hillary said we must push, persevere, keep going. Democrats should celebrate and be grateful for this dramatic amazing campaign and throw all kinds of positive energy now into getting Obama elected.

I adore Hillary Clinton yet am electrified by Obama. He speaks my language too. I am ranting but really don't understand this weird polarization of our party into two camps. It is very distressing. How do you explain it?

Marjorie Valbrun: That's how politics works, people on different sides of issues tend to have strong feelings about their positions and to think that the other side's position is just wrong.

Close elections, especially one that involves two historic firsts, tend to bring out the best and worst in voters.

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Alexandria, VA: For what it's worth, I remember thinking more than once during Hillary's phenomenal speech how Michelle Obama seemed to be looking on admiringly and gratefully. I in turn was relieved and grateful for that. I am stunned this morning at how people watching and listening to the same event have come away with such completely different impressions, as is so often the case.

I saw no daggers. I saw warmth, and a 1st-class act by both.

Marjorie Valbrun: I agree with you.

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Boston MA: Obviously the idea of Michelle as "angry black woman" is ridiculous. At the same time however, her facial expression at neutral is not a small smile, which is what people seem to expect. I understand, because mine isn't either and people constantly ask why I'm upset.

She's probably going to need to learn to be actively smiling while in public.

Marjorie Valbrun: Isn't it silly what first ladies and other women in the public eye have to worry about? If it isn't their hair, it's their clothes or sense of style, their body language, or way of speaking. Now they have to worry about emotionally revealing smiles/frowns too?

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Washington, DC: Hi Marjorie, I'm looking at the comments in the stories about Clinton's speech last night and there are a depressingly significant number castigating Michelle Obama for looking too serious. Can she ever win?

Marjorie Valbrun: She can't win, and imagine, she's not even the first lady yet.

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Jack, Washington DC: Recently John McCain has released an an featuring a woman who claims to be a former Clinton supporter saying it's ok for Democrats to vote for John McCain. What should Obama's response ad look like? Should the Obama campaign just run a commercial featuring Sen. Clinton's "No Way, No How" remark? I'm all for the Obama campaign just sampling Hillary's speech for the next few weeks.

Marjorie Valbrun: I hear the campaign is already working on ads showcasing McCain's Republican opponents, most notably Romney, saying terrible things about McCain during the primaries.

Whatever happens you can bet the ads are going to become increasingly nasty in the next few months.

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Chicago, Illinois: I loved Michelle Obama's mother on Monday. She had a great narration to the video. And of course the girls are adorable. What's the line between advertising your family and exploiting them?

Marjorie Valbrun: I guess the bar is set by the individuals involved and their feelings about sharing with the public.

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Boston MA: This is a bit backdated, but it still makes me angry. I didn't see a single commentator during the whole Michelle/Cindy "proud of American" kerfuffle mention the seeming obvious fact that it's just possible that growing up as a pampered rich white woman gives one a much different perspective on America then growing up black on the southside of Chicago.

Marjorie Valbrun: I agree and I know that wealth and poverty does indeed influence how people think, behave, and see the world.

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Malia and Sasha: I thought perhaps the most "humanizing" aspect of Michelle's speech was the appearance of their daughters afterward, especially the way little Sasha kept piping right up. I assume they'll be onstage tomorrow night again when their dad speaks. What do you think of these little stars in the making?

Marjorie Valbrun: The girls are darling and cute, they were definitely a hit.

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Reston, VA: I'm new to this. Maybe it's been vetted out, but is she pro-White Sox or pro-Cubs?

Marjorie Valbrun: I have no idea. Check out her website.

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Elkridge, Maryland: Hi. I was surprised to read that Hillary's campaign was so badly run, given that her husband's campaigns were run well. What would have helped her campaign? Did she need help in choosing the right people for the jobs in the campaign? A leader is supposed to identify her own areas of weakness and then compensate for them by finding people who have strengths in those areas.

Marjorie Valbrun: You answered your own question, she obviously didn't do most of those things. A lot of people believe she was blinded by her own arrogance and thought the primaries were going to be a cakewalk.

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Floris, Va.: Marc Ambinder of the Atlantic is reporting that the Obama campaign ran focus groups in 18 battleground states on Michelle's speech and she came across as a winner. Can you confirm this or add to it?

washingtonpost.com: Obama Camp's Data On Michelle's Speech (TheAtlantic.com, Aug. 26)

Marjorie Valbrun: I can neither confirm nor deny. I hadn't heard this bit of info, but it sounds plausible.

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Marjorie Valbrun: Readers,

Thanks for your great comments and observations. Unfortunately I have to sign off now because we are experiencing technical problems. Sorry, I could not get to all of you. Please keep reading TheRoot.com, we love hearing from you.

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