It was only four years ago that Barack Obama sent the hopes of Americans soaring with promises for change and dreams of a better future. People joked that he could “walk on water.” Michelle Obama, always with her feet firmly planted on the ground, kept things in perspective joking that her husband “snores and has bad breath in the morning.”
Last week it was the same realistic Michelle with a 66% approval rating compared to the President’s 48%, who stepped up to the podium at the Democratic Convention and delivered, in my opinion, the best speech of this presidential election year. Passionate and electrifying, she alternated between inspiring the crowd, bring tears to people’s eyes, and describing the nitty-gritty realities of life, and the values one needs to make it better. Americans believed her because they know she is a straight-shooter.
Standing there, tall, commanding, and feminine in her beautiful pink dress, Michelle Obama captured our hearts with her words.
Here’s a few bits about values learned from her parents,
“They believed in that fundamental American promise that, even if you don’t start out with much, if you work hard and do what you’re supposed to do, then you should be able to build a decent life for yourself and an even better life for your kids and grandkids…..We learned about dignity and decency– that how hard you work matters more than how much you make…that helping others means more than just getting ahead yourself. We learned about gratitude and humility– that so many people had a hand in our success, from the teachers who inspired us to the janitors who kept our school clean…and we were taught to value everyone’s contribution and treat everyone with respect.”
What truly inspiring words, values I would hope to teach to my three children: dignity, decency, helping others, gratitude and humility.
As First Lady, Michelle Obama has brilliantly cut out a role for herself as Mom-in-Chief. Michelle learned from Hillary Clinton’s mistakes as First Lady. There would be no co-presidency with the Obamas. There would be no meddling by the First Lady in affairs of state aside perhaps from late night pillow talk. Michelle Obama chose to dedicate her time to other causes, her favorite was tackling the seemingly intractable problem of obesity in the United States. She started a vegetable garden at the White House, and recently held a luncheon including one child from every state and serving a healthy meal including recipes provided by the children. Her “Let’s Move” project aims to teach Americans healthy attitudes about food and exercise. She has also dedicated her time to helping military families.
She has established herself and someone who can show empathy with the problems of American people and express genuine sympathy to their pain. According to an article in the New York Times by Jody Kantor, Michelle Obama has cut out a role for herself as hugger-in-chief. Apparently Michelle likes to wrap her long elegant arms fully around people, pulling them tight into an all-encompassing empathetic hug. And she’s not stingy with her hugs. According to the article, her aides say she is capable of giving 50 people in a room one of her great, big hugs. It is a brilliant, risk-free political tactic.
I remember when Michelle Obama first appeared on the political scene. A mother of two girls, a Harvard Law School graduate, six feet tall, descendent of slaves, articulate and tough. When her husband decided to run for President, Michelle gave up her job with the University of Chicago Medical Center, that earned her nearly $300,000 per year, and became a key figure, often introducing her husband at campaign events. People who saw her said she was even more inspiring than her husband. She was determined, articulate and smart. In a speech on August 16th, 2007 at the Iowa State Fair, she introduced her husband, explaining why they had decided to make the run for the White House:
“…Barack and I talked long and hard about the decision…And, as more people talked to us about it, the question came up again and again: what most people were concerned about were fear. Fear was again raising its ugly head in one of the most important decisions we would make. Fear, fear, fear that he might lose, fear that he might get hurt, fear that this would be ugly, fear that it would hurt our family, fear. But you know the reason that I said ‘yes’ is that I am tired of being afraid. I am tired of living in a country where every decision that we made of the last ten years wasn’t for something but it was because people told us that we had to fear something.”
For this speech she was dressed in black pants and a black top and was wearing a black headband, attracting the attention of the conservative media who went after Michelle Obama with a vengeance. They depicted her as a radical America-hater. In February 2008, Michelle made the mistake of saying, “For the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country.” That comment made the rounds of radio talk shows and blogs and Michelle Obama was repeatedly accused of being anti-American. When her husband won the Democratic nomination, she came up on stage and joyously fist-bumped with him.
Immediately, conservative commentators said this was a terrorist gesture and the New Yorker even ran a cover with a caricature of Michelle Obama in fatigues and Barack Obama in a turban fist-bumping in the Oval Office. One blogger called her “the bitter, anti-American, ungrateful, rude, crude, ghetto, angry Michelle Obama.”
The Obama campaign decided it was time to alter Michelle’s image from outspoken to demure, to put her into a First-Lady box of dutiful helpmate. She began appearing in flowery dresses and speaking softly about the joys of motherhood. At the Democratic Convention in 2008, she delivered a stirring speech about her life as a daughter, a mother, and a wife to Barack Obama. Gone was the passion about politics and justice and the charisma shown earlier in the campaign. As the 2008 Obama campaign website explained: “When people ask Michelle Obama to describe herself, she doesn’t hesitate. First and foremost she is Malia and Sasha’s mom.”
When Michelle Obama became First Lady, self-described post-feminist Camilla Paglia was optimistic about the future of the First Lady noting, “The formidable Michelle Obama, with her electric combo of brains and style, is already re-writing First-Ladyhood.”
I believe Paglia was right. Michelle Obama found her own way to break out of that dutiful helpmate box and create a role for herself as First Lady, combining her unique political instincts with her mix of femininity and female power, and defining it as Mom-in-Chief.
Being a true pol, she knew at the convention in Charlotte she had to convince the public to simply get out there and vote for her husband.
Here’s another excerpt:
“And I love that even in the toughest moments, when we are all sweating it– when we’re worried that that bill won’t pass, and it seems like all is lost– Barack never lets himself get distracted by the chatter and noise. Just like his grandmother, he just keeps on getting up and moving forward…with patience and wisdom, and courage and grace. And he reminds me that we are playing a long game here….and that change is hard, and change is slow and it never happens all at once. But eventually we get there, we always do.”
As I listened to her I found myself wishing I had the patience and wisdom, courage and grace to keep on getting up and moving forward, to know that I will eventually get there.
I will note here that I also enjoyed listening to Ann Romney’s speech at the convention. I thought she did an excellent job. I find her an admirable mother with 5 sons and 18 grandchildren and who has faced multiple sclerosis and breast cancer with great courage. Like Michelle, Ann Romney outshined her husband.
But it was Michelle who I felt was able to reach though that TV camera and speak to me and others directly, making us all understand that the future is not easy.
“So today, when the challenges we face start to seem overwhelming– or even impossible– let us never forget that doing the impossible is the history of this nation…it’s who we are as Americans….”
Towards the end of her speech, Michelle declared, “You see, at the end of the day, my most important title is still “mom-in-chief”.
So I say Hail to the indomitable, formidable Michelle Obama, “Mom-in-Chief” extraordinaire!