Michelle Obama’s speech in the Convention Centre last night was aimed at accomplishing several goals. It sought to humanise and feminise her as a political spouse, to identify the Obamas with the familial aspirations of Middle America, to present her husband as primarily a loving father to their children rather than a pointy-headed intellectual, to dispel any doubts about her love for the US and finally to praise Hillary Clinton as a woman and a leader. Party supporters will decide if she hit all of her targets but she gave it her best shot.
After a nervous start, Michelle allowed the warmth of the audience to carry her through and undoubtedly daunting speech. If there was one theme hammered home throughout with the subtlety of a sledgehammer, it was that of ‘Family, Family, Family!’:
’I come here tonight as a sister, blessed with a brother who is my mentor, my protector and my lifelong friend.
I come here as a wife who loves my husband and believes he will be an extraordinary president.
I come here as a Mom whose girls are the heart of my heart and the center of my world’
Barrack, we were told, was ‘was raised by grandparents who were working class folks just like my parents, and by a single mother who struggled to pay the bills just like we did.’ This is more than a nod to Main Street America, it’s a fully fledged bear hug. We heard of the ubiquitous ‘hard-working’ families – making this writer long for the candidate who goes after the feckless slob vote. Even Joe Biden was brought in as someone ‘who’s never forgotten where he came from’. Obama identifies with Joe Sixpack struggling to pay for gas or trying to put his kids through college; Michelle was at pains to emphasise how average her husband really was.
There were paeans to the party faithful; the twin Democrat icons of feminism and Dr King were duly saluted. Her husband would, in a phrase allowing plenty of manoeuvre, ‘end the war in Iraq responsibly’. She praised the Obama supporters that had followed them since Iowa and before. She gave thanks to Hillary for breaking glass ceilings. She is proud of Barrack’s idealism; ‘all of us [are] 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’.
Only two mentions of God and that was in the traditional peroration. But Michelle and her speech-crafters wanted her audience to know that despite reports to the contrary, she was not afraid to use the phrase ‘that is why I love this country.’ She wanted to convey how here sense of patriotism was rooted in the American Dream.
Such speeches may seem somewhat mawkish and sentimental by European political standards; the, doubtless sincere, references to deceased love ones, overcoming illness and the personal narrative essential to all American presidential odysseys. But Michelle Obama coped admirably with the expectations foisted on her by an eager audience and demonstrated that the Obamas are beginning to eclipse the Clintons as the most formidable double-act in politics.