Michelle on Monday

The Obama campaign announces a risky choice: That the nominee's wife will be the featured speaker on the first night of the convention.

Published August 11, 2008 12:52PM (EDT)

On Sunday came word that Michelle Obama will get a prime-time speaking slot on opening night, Monday, Aug. 25, at the Democratic National Convention in Denver.

My initial, gut reaction? Bad move. Yes, Hillary Clinton will be doing a prime-time speech on Tuesday night, which means putting her husband, Bill, in the prime spot on Monday -- the night when former or departing presidents and vice presidents usually speak -- could be Too Much Clinton for the first 48 hours. So I totally get why the Obama camp wouldn't want Bill taking the spotlight on Monday. Monday would, however, be an ideal slot for a non-Clinton Democrat whose stock has soared since the 2004 Boston convention: Al Gore.

Maybe Gore and Michelle Obama will both speak that night. But to make Michelle Obama the focus of Monday night seems premature. Yes, she's the spouse of the nominee, but at this point she is only the potential next first lady. As the Los Angeles Times points out in the piece, presidential spouses have spoken before, including Hillary at the 1996 convention in Chicago. And though Tipper Gore was not first lady when she spoke in 2000 in Los Angeles, at least she was the then second lady of the United States (or whatever term aptly describes the vice president's spouse).

If Hillary is the focus on Tuesday night, and naturally Wednesday and Thursday go, respectively, to Obama’s veep pick and Obama himself, Monday should belong to somebody like Gore.

By Thomas Schaller

Thomas F. Schaller is professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the author of "Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South." Follow him @schaller67.

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