The task that Michelle Obama faced tonight as she gave the headline speech of the first night of the Democratic convention was to reintroduce and humanize the Obama family, and she more than delivered.
After going through their family histories, Mrs. Obama spoke about her and her husband’s values, “And Barack and I were raised with so many of the same values: that you work hard for what you want in life; that your word is your bond and you do what you say you’re going to do; that you treat people with dignity and respect, even if you don’t know them, and even if you don’t agree with them. And Barack and I set out to build lives guided by these values, and pass them on to the next generation. Because we want our children – and all children in this nation – to know that the only limit to the height of your achievements is the reach of your dreams and your willingness to work for them.”
She talked about Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden, and how they never forgot where they came from, and the way that they still fight for working people, “All of us driven by a simple belief that the world as it is just won’t do – that we have an obligation to fight for the world as it should be. That is the thread that connects our hearts. That is the thread that runs through my journey and Barack’s journey and so many other improbable journeys that have brought us here tonight, where the current of history meets this new tide of hope.”
She continued, “That is why I love this country. And in my own life, in my own small way, I’ve tried to give back to this country that has given me so much. That’s why I left a job at a law firm for a career in public service, working to empower young people to volunteer in their communities. Because I believe that each of us – no matter what our age or background or walk of life – each of us has something to contribute to the life of this nation.”
She also humanized Barack Obama, “And in the end, after all that’s happened these past 19 months, the Barack Obama I know today is the same man I fell in love with 19 years ago. He’s the same man who drove me and our new baby daughter home from the hospital ten years ago this summer, inching along at a snail’s pace, peering anxiously at us in the rearview mirror, feeling the whole weight of her future in his hands, determined to give her everything he’d struggled so hard for himself, determined to give her what he never had: the affirming embrace of a father’s love.”
“So tonight, in honor of my father’s memory and my daughters’ future – out of gratitude to those whose triumphs we mark this week, and those whose everyday sacrifices have brought us to this moment – let us devote ourselves to finishing their work; let us work together to fulfill their hopes; and let us stand together to elect Barack Obama President of the United States of America,” she concluded.
The moments after the speech when Obama appeared live on the big screen risked pushing the theme over the top, but it became something genuine and authentic, due to the spontaneous behavior of the two Obama girls. Barack Obama does sometimes give an aloof intellectual vibe, but this speech tonight put the Obamas in a context that refutes the scare tactics of the GOP smear machine. Michelle Obama gave a great speech that due to Ted Kennedy, was only the second best moment of the night, but Mrs. Obama set the bar very high for all of the speakers that will follow her this week.