"The action I am taking is no more than a radical measure to hasten the explosion of truth and justice. I have but one passion: to enlighten those who have been kept in the dark, in the name of humanity which has suffered so much and is entitled to happiness. My fiery protest is simply the cry of my very soul. Let them dare, then, to bring me before a court of law and let the enquiry take place in broad daylight!" - Emile Zola, J'accuse! (1898) -

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Michelle Obama had her audition for the role of U.S. first lady Monday night.

Predictably, she used her speech to the Democratic convention in Denver to praise her husband and reassure voters she thinks “he will be an extraordinary president.”

But her speech was much more than a simple endorsement by an adoring spouse. It was a sophisticated symphony of messages aimed at the variety of audiences that make up the American electorate.

Deconstructing her speech captures the essence of her husband’s campaign and the themes he is likely to repeat in the run-up to November’s election.

Here are some salient passages from Ms. Obama’s speech and an analysis of their significance.

I come here as a mom whose girls are the heart of my heart and the centre of my world — they’re the first thing I think about when I wake up in the morning, and the last thing I think about when I go to bed at night. Their future — and all our children’s future — is my stake in this election.

• Her core task was to make Americans comfortable with her husband and herself. She had to destroy an image of being distant, angry and “different” by stressing what they share with most voters.

I come here as a daughter, raised on the South Side of Chicago by a father who was a blue-collar city worker, and a mother who stayed at home with my brother and me.

• She wants to find a connection with the working-class families her husband has had trouble reaching in the campaign so far.

My dad was our rock. Although he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in his early 30s, he was our provider, our champion, our hero. As he got sicker, it got harder for him to walk, it took him longer to get dressed in the morning. But if he was in pain, he never let on. He never stopped smiling and laughing — even while struggling to button his shirt, even while using two canes to get himself across the room to give my mom a kiss. He just woke up a little earlier, and worked a little harder.

• Democrats complain the Republicans have tried to smear Ms. Obama by portraying her as an angry radical, who in February, declared, “For the first time in my adult life, I am proud of my country, because it feels like hope is finally making a comeback.” Last night, she pitched her own story, rooted in the black American experience, with an unsung hero — her crippled working-class father who managed to send two children to Princeton.

What struck me when I first met Barack was that even though he had this funny name, even though he’d grown up all the way across the continent in Hawaii, his family was so much like mine. He was raised by grandparents who were working-class folks just like my parents, and by a single mother who struggled to pay the bills just like we did. Like my family, they scrimped and saved so that he could have opportunities they never had themselves.

• She had to emphasize that Barack Obama, with his “funny name” and unusual personal history, is every bit as American as U.S. voters. She describes the United States as a place of hope where people find success during the course of “improbable journeys.”

Barack and I were raised with so many of the same values: that you work hard for what you want in life; that your word is your bond and you do what you say you’re going to do; that you treat people with dignity and respect, even if you don’t know them, and even if you don’t agree with them.

• She showcases the Obamas as a true American family dedicated to traditional values.

This week, we celebrate two anniversaries: the 88th anniversary of women winning the right to vote, and the 45th anniversary of that hot summer day when Dr. [Martin Luther] King lifted our sights and our hearts with his dream for our nation.

• There is only one reference to race in her speech, and this direct mention of Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement is made in the same breath as the battle for women’s suffrage. Rather than dividing Americans, she seeks to unite them by appealing to their pride and accomplishments.

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. People like Joe Biden, who’s never forgotten where he came from, and never stopped fighting for folks who work long hours and face long odds and need someone on their side again.

• Like a mother, Mrs. Obama wants to be a peacemaker, trying to help begin the healing process within the Democratic party by reaching the traditional bases her husband failed to connect with during the primaries.

Instead of heading to Wall Street, Barack had gone to work in neighbourhoods devastated when steel plants shut down, and jobs dried up. And he’d been invited back to speak to people from those neighbourhoods about how to rebuild their community. The people gathered together that day were ordinary folks doing the best they could to build a good life. They were parents living pay cheque to pay cheque; grandparents trying to get by on a fixed income; men frustrated that they couldn’t support their families after their jobs disappeared. Those folks weren’t asking for a handout or a shortcut. They were ready to work — they wanted to contribute. They believed — like you and I believe — that America should be a place where you can make it if you try.

Barack stood up that day, and spoke words that have stayed with me ever since. He talked about “the world as it is” and “the world as it should be.” And he said that all too often, we accept the distance between the two, and settle for the world as it is — even when it doesn’t reflect our values and aspirations. But he reminded us that we know what our world should look like. We know what fairness and justice and opportunity look like. And he urged us to believe in ourselves — to find the strength within ourselves to strive for the world as it should be. And isn’t that the great American story?

• She hits a Kennedy analogy, with a strong echo of Robert Kennedy’s famous lines, “Some people see things as they are and say why? I dream things that never were and say why not?” She portrays her husband as a selfless idealist with experience in bringing others hope, while guiding them towards change. He could have sought a fortune in business, but chose community work instead. He comes across as an uncommon man with common sense and a common touch, and she wraps it all up with a touch of American patriotism.

I stand here today at the crosscurrents of that history — knowing that my piece of the American Dream is a blessing hard won by those who came before me.

• She appeals to the country’s inherent conservatism, linking her family’s beliefs and hopes to those of the people who have gone before, wrapping the past and the future into a single moment that promises both change and a continuation of the American Dream.

That is the thread that connects our hearts. 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. That is why I love this country.

• She echoes her husband’s message of hope, stressing their love of country and their belief in its potential for good in the world. She seeks to find a common thread that connects all Americans.

Barack doesn’t care where you’re from, or what your background is, or what party — if any — you belong to. That’s not how he sees the world. He knows that thread that connects us — our belief in America’s promise, our commitment to our children’s future — is strong enough to hold us together as one nation even when we disagree.

Writing yesterday in the National Review Online, commentator Byron York noted:
“In Denver Mrs. Obama had a job to do. It wasn’t just to introduce Americans to the Obama family or show another side of her husband’s personality. It was to rehabilitate herself, to take the edge of anger and resentment from her public pronouncements and embrace a wholesome, country-loving, American-Dream-living image.”

She nailed it – just as easily as sinking a basketball shot with her brother Craig Robinson, the head basketball coach at Oregon State University.

And Yes, little Sasha gets my vote too!

End Post