Michelle Obama’s emotional speech on the opening night of the Democratic convention gave the assembled just what they wanted: a reason to fall in love with Barack Obama all over again, nearly four years into a presidency that has left him a little battered.
Mrs. Obama shared many of the well-chronicled stories of their lives – families of modest means that sacrificed for their children, student loan payments that came to more than their mortgage, and now, as first family, how he has dinner with her and the girls almost every night.
The popular first lady also shared her apprehension of what life in the White House would do to her family and to her marriage – and offered reassurance.
“When people ask me whether being in the White House has changed my husband, I can honestly say that when it comes to his character, and his convictions, and his heart, Barack Obama is still the same man I fell in love with all those years ago,” Mrs. Obama said Tuesday night to an enthusiastic convention hall.
In fact, she spoke of love frequently, an echo of Ann Romney’s love-filled speech the week before in Tampa, Fla.
Yet Mrs. Obama’s speech also had its political moments, although she never uttered the words “Mitt Romney." First ladies usually stand apart from politics. But the Republican who wants President Obama’s job was subtly present during Mrs. Obama’s half-hour remarks, the foil to her husband’s very different life path.
“He’s the same man who started his career by turning down high-paying jobs and instead working in struggling neighborhoods where a steel plant had shut down, fighting to rebuild those communities and get folks back to work – because for Barack, success isn’t about how much money you make, it’s about the difference you make in people’s lives,” she said, an apparent dig at Romney’s choice of a lucrative career in business.
Mrs. Obama touched on policy a few times, speaking of her husband’s fight to increase student aid and keep the interest rate on student loans from rising.
“He believes that when you’ve worked hard, and done well, and walked through that doorway of opportunity, you do not slam it shut behind you,” she said, another apparent slap at Republicans. “No, you reach back, and you give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed.”
Mrs. Obama also threw in some light moments, reminiscing about how when they were dating, Obama would pick her up in a car that was so rusty, she could see the pavement going by through a hole in the door.
“He was the guy whose proudest possession was a coffee table he’d found in a dumpster, and whose only pair of decent shoes was a half size too small,” she said.
Early in their married life, she remarked to laughter, “Yeah, we were so young, so in love – and so in debt.”
When Mrs. Obama declared toward the end of her speech that her most important title is “mom-in-chief,” she seemed to be reaching out to suburban women, a critical swing vote. She also appeared to be choking up, unusual for her in public. But she had the packed Time Warner Cable Arena in the palm of her hand, and during the many moments of cheering and applause, she could do little but stand there and smile, a look of wonder on her face.
Whether Mrs. Obama’s speech will boost her husband’s reelection chances is hard to say, though typically, warm testimonials from a candidate’s wife are taken as a given. Her remarks seemed more an effort to reinforce Obama’s existing advantage in personal likeability, rather than make the hard political argument for how he can boost the economy.
But following the rousing speech by keynoter Julian Castro, the young mayor of San Antonio, Texas – with his own up-by-the-bootstraps life story to inspire the crowd – Mrs. Obama’s speech seemed to deliver on its promise.
And if Twitter is any guide, her speech was a success. She got almost double the tweets per minute during her speech than Mr. Romney did during his acceptance speech last week. According to a tweet from Twitter, Mrs. Obama peaked at 28,003 tweets per minute to Romney’s 14,289.