How Michelle Obama nailed it

Radiating love and passion for her family and her country, she answered questions we wish the nation didn't have.

Joan Walsh
August 26, 2008 8:06PM (UTC)

I made the mistake of reading Michelle Obama's speech Monday night before she delivered it. (Rebecca Traister writes it up perfectly here.) I shrugged at the competent but less than inspiring prose, and winced a little at the campaign's obvious effort to domesticate her, to take a smart, funny lawyer-activist who's also a loving wife and mom and all but erase the public person.

Then I watched the smart, funny lawyer-activist and loving wife and mom pour herself into that speech, and I was incredibly impressed, and moved. I can't imagine the pressure Michelle Obama was under, having seen the way a less than perfectly placed adverb -- "for the first time in my adult life I am really proud of my country" -- and other inflections could define her as unpatriotic and ungrateful. There were so many ways to screw up last night, I was nervous for her -- until she started speaking.


The way she delivered the speech made the words all hers. She radiated a deep love -- for Barack Obama, her late father, her brother, her mother and of course those astonishing daughters, but also for the country. She spoke with a calm passion and conviction that were incredibly effective. We even saw a glimpse of the feisty Michelle when a little anger crept into her voice as she talked about military families "with an empty seat at the dinner table." I could only see her from behind from the media space at the Pepsi Center, but I loved the shots of her mother, Marion, while she spoke, and also the cutaways to Joe Biden, just beaming like a proud uncle. When Michelle's daughters joined her onstage and Barack showed up on the video screen, it was all over -- in a good way.

Of course, part of me hates it that Michelle Obama, and the Obama family, have to work so hard to seem like one of us. Some of the problem is race; a lot of it is the McCain campaign's nasty campaign to turn them into otherworldly celebrities. One of my favorite buttons, sported mainly by middle-aged black women here in Denver, is a photo of Barack, Michelle, Sasha and Malia with the caption: "America's Next First Family." The image is hokey and also kind of heartbreaking. The truth is, Michelle Obama does have to work hard to make some voters comfortable with the image on that button; the good news is, she's doing the work.

I shared the desire of many Democrats for a more aggressive and exciting opening night, though I was moved to see Ted Kennedy. If not for all the lingering psychodrama, I'd have had Bill Clinton, not poor Claire McCaskill, warm up the crowd for Michelle Obama. Yes, you read that right: Bill Clinton. But we won't dwell there. Michelle Obama did exactly what she needed to do, but the rest of the agenda at the Pepsi Center did not. I'm looking forward to Hillary Clinton and Mark Warner getting it right Tuesday night.

Joan Walsh

Joan Walsh is the author of "What's the Matter With White People: Finding Our Way in the Next America."

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2008 Elections Michelle Obama Ted Kennedy

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