Michelle Obama's speech and US expectations of a first lady
She reintroduced herself to the American people Monday, with a focus on family and public service.
Denver – The biggest applause line in Michelle Obama's prime-time speech on Day 1 of the Democratic National Convention was a reference to her husband's former chief rival, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.Skip to next paragraph
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"People like Hillary Clinton, who put those 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling, so that our daughters and sons can dream a little bigger and aim a little higher," she said in reference to the votes cast for Senator Clinton during the primary season – as the delegates at the Pepsi Center in Denver roared approval.
It's a sign that first ladies, even would-be first ladies, swim in deep political waters. Not until Senator Clinton takes the podium on Night 2 of the convention will issues of party unity be set to rest ... perhaps. Still, Michelle is the first Obama to meet it head on in a high-stakes, prime-time speech.
It's unlikely that many Americans decide who they want for president on the basis of their feelings regarding a candidate's spouse. But impressions form, and last night prospective voters had an opportunity to judge what kind of a first lady they think Michelle Obama would be – and to think about whether she fits into their idea of what someone in that role should be.
Thus, the most important line of the evening for Michelle Obama came a few beats later, as she spoke about "the great American story," that is, that men and women are "determined to mold our future into the shape of our ideals."
"All of us driven by the 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 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.”
The Teleprompter read: PAUSE. Then, she said it: "That is why I love this country."
It was something of a course correction, meant to lay to rest something she had said back in February, when she told an audience in Wisconsin that "for the first time in my adult lifetime I am really proud of my country." For some, it raised this question: Was Michelle Obama – and, by association, her husband – unpatriotic?
The whole flap was reminiscent of one that surrounded Hillary Clinton back when she was a would-be first lady on the campaign trail. Her comment about not sitting home and baking cookies dogged her into the election and beyond: Was she disparaging noncareer women who did quietly raise families and, yes, bake cookies?
By way of explanation about how love of country has shaped her decisions, Obama said: "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.