Tuned In

The Morning After: Michelle Obama, Between the Lines

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Last Thursday at the Republican National Convention, Clint Eastwood attacked an invisible opponent in a chair with rambling sarcasm. Last night, at the Democratic National Convention, Michelle Obama attacked an invisible opponent without using a prop or a name, without even, in so many words attacking. Her opening-night speech, ostensibly about her husband’s character and their relationship, was really a sly demonstration of criticizing without criticizing, rebutting by implication, slicing and dicing with a smile.*

In front of a whipped-up partisan crowd in Charlotte, Michelle Obama did not critique Mitt Romney by name; she certainly did not directly rebut Ann Romney, who gave a solid speech last week testifying to her husband’s personality and character. But as it unfolded, her speech used biography as a velvet shiv, using the story of her and Barack’s courtship, their early struggles and his less-remunerative work as a contrast in values to the ones expounded at the RNC.

“For Barack,” she said, “success is not about how much money you make, it’s about the difference you make in people’s lives.” Where Ann Romney told stories, to play down her husband’s privileged upbringing, of eating pasta and tuna off an ironing board, Michelle brought out a story of a coffee table salvaged from a Dumpster. (The conventions this year are turning into something of an I-was-poorer-once contest.) And talking of the President as a husband and father of daughters led to a spotlight on the parties’ gender gap: “He believes that women are more than capable of making our own choices about our bodies and our healthcare.”

The First Lady’s audience was primed for her with a series of speeches aimed right at the pleasure centers of the party faithful. Not every one nailed it—the primetime 10 p.m. hour opened with a sparkless address by Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley—but the crowd had been keyed up with a barnburner by Massachusetts Gov. (and Romney successor) Deval Patrick and an engaging keynote from San Antonio mayor Julian Castro.

There were a lot of messages last night—for women’s choice, tax fairness, same-sex marriage equality, Obamacare’s protections—but the important message from a TV standpoint was energy, I’m not pundit enough to guess whether Republicans or Democrats will be more enthusiastic this year, in an election that purportedly will be largely determined by turnout. But the DNC’s first night at least conveyed the impression of enthusiasm strongly. Maybe it was the execution of the speeches. Maybe it was the text of the speakers—Patrick’s and Castro’s speeches were conspicuously different from Chris Christie’s in that they actually spent a lot of time talking about the guy they were there to endorse. It may have been as simple as the convention room layout, with the stage at the end of an elongated floor to maximize the images of teeming supporters.

Whatever it was, the night made a lot of noise, in the room and online, where by the end of her speech Michelle Obama had generated more traffic on Twitter than any RNC speaker including Romney. (Again, whether any of that translates proportionally into votes is the 270-electoral-vote question.)

There was plenty of red, or I guess blue, meat in last night’s program. We saw a tribute video to Ted Kennedy, who defeated Romney for Senate in 1994, which some Republicans complained was crassly partisan for a tribute to the late senator. (Imagine! Injecting partisan politics into a film about a Kennedy!) There was an Alpine mountain of Swiss-bank-account references. There were searing personal stories: congressional candidate Tammy Duckworth recalling her war injuries, a mother on stage with her daughter, whose heart ailment she said would bankrupt their family if not for the coverage guarantees of the Affordable Care Act. And, in what may not be the last such moment for the Dems post-Eastwood, they brought out one of their own Hollywood guys: Kal Penn, who at one point said, “Thank you, invisible man in the chair, for that.”

Michelle Obama’s speech, though, was a successful example of the trick First Ladies are expected to pull off: to be political without seeming overtly political. Her shoulders were bare, but, though you might scarcely notice it sitting at home, her knuckles were too.

*Because I believe you should know this, here is where I should disclose that I voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and plan to this year. As I’ve written before, I think that most people who care enough about politics to write about it have political opinions, and you should be able to take those into consideration if it matters to you. As a columnist, it’s my job to be opinionated, but also to call things the way I see them without spinning them to help my side win; and it should be your right to decide whether I’ve done so. My political leanings, though, are not why I didn’t do a similar post on the first night of the Republican convention–I was on vacation all week.

22 comments
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D_Bob
D_Bob

Hers was a speech — and point — well worth making. Regardless of what anyone thinks of Barack Obama, it inspired me to want even more to be that kind of person. That is what counts most of all, and that is why it was a brilliant, moving and worthwhile speech — worthwhile for any American, regardless of party or faith.

Dr Sam
Dr Sam

AMAZING FLOTUS!  SIMPLY PUT, A STAR IS BORN!!!  BRAVO.

The Hoobie
The Hoobie

As a proud "strident liberal Obama voter," I've found myself in the unusual position (almost unheard of for a Democrat!) of feeling delighted and optimistic this past month. Delighted that Democrats seem to have suddenly grown a spine and some really effective communications techniques (go, Michelle!). Optimistic because, unlike, say, the Republican Veep candidate (BOOM!), the electoral math don't lie: http://fivethirtyeight.blogs.n...

anon76returns
anon76returns

O Nate Silver, we worship at your feet!  

A quick disclaimer- I've been saying all week that Nate's assumption on how much 'expected bounce' to subtract out for Romney was overly optimistic, and as a consequence his odds of Romney winning were artificially low.  Nate came out and said basically the same thing in his article this morning, so I'm feeling smugly vindicated today.  Still, yeah it's looking pretty good for the pres.ps- did you catch Michael Steele on The Daily Show last week?  Terror bibbles in the house!

The Hoobie
The Hoobie

I hate to confess this, because I know we can't predict the future, blah blah, etc, and I realize how important it is to stay "fired up and ready to go" (and believe me, I still am!), but I'm kind of with Matt Taibbi here: http://www.rollingstone.com/po...

(I'm not with him in thinking the election is boring, just with him in finding the idea that Romney has an actual chance hilariously absurd and hard to take seriously.... Though I do realize that article was written a while ago and that few people view the candidacy with quite as much snark as Taibbi.)

And of course we caught the Man of Steele in our hizzy last week, after our own Terror Bibbles were in bed. :)

Dan Bruce
Dan Bruce

My political leanings, though, are not why I didn’t do a similar post on the first night of the Republican convention–I was on vacation all week.

So were the Republicans.

lucelucy
lucelucy

My money's on Michelle!  I suspect even her husband is sweating whether or not he can top her!  Brilliantly done!  I did have to giggle a bit when the keynote speaker was introduced - by his twin brother!  The Castro brothers!  Alive and well at the Democratic Convention.   I know, I know.  Different Castros.  Still.  It was a moment.  :)

myonlinelifenow
myonlinelifenow

"Because I believe you should know this..."  I think anyone writing about politics should have a little disclaimer at the bottom.  Just to keep it on the up and up.  Great read.  Just my two cents

Magik13
Magik13

YES WE ARE BETTER OFF AND

ANYONE WITH AN IQ BIGGER THAN THEIR SHOE SIZE CAN OBJECTIVELY VERIFY THIS FOR

THEMSELF. IT is a FACT that the country is better off than we were 4 years ago.

The economy was losing 800,000 jobs per month when Republicans were in control

of both houses of Congress and the US Presidency in 2006. The economy under the

Republicans continued to lose 800,000 jobs per month right up until Obama was elected.

Bush and the Republican party started 2 useless and very costly wars at a cost

of $4 trillion and 1,000,000 human lives. They finished neither one of them but

left these 2 quagmires to Obama to finish...which he did.

The US Auto industry was failing and Republicans were demanding to allow it to

fail. Obama saved the US Auto industry and thousands of jobs.

The world financial and banking sector was failing and crashing down all around

Bush in his last days in office. What did he do? He passed the crises off on

Obama to handle. In fact BUSH AND THE REPUBLICANS DID NOT FINISH A SINGLE THING

THAT THEY STARTED.

Based on the job numbers

alone we are better off.  The poor have access to medical care. Doctors

and HMOs can no longer deny us coverage for pre-existing conditions. 

The Republicans have to

steal Reagan's phrase because they have nothing original 

YES WE ARE BETTER OFF.

FAR BETTER OFF THAN WE WERE UNDER BUSH AND THE DO NOTHING, TOXIC REPUBLICANS. 

jt_va
jt_va

Magik13...You are a liberal COWARD.   USA was attacked on 9-11-01 that is why America started 2 wars.   Wash that yellow streak off your back.

We are NOT better off:  $4 per gallon for gas; $16 trillion in debt; 42 consecutive months of 8+ % unemployment, 15% higher food prices; 46.7 Million on food stamps; lower paying jobs...This list goes on and on.  Oh yeah...don't forget to drink more Obama Koolaid...its free.

mcnater
mcnater

Wow...you're nuts.

mcnater
mcnater

I'm sorry, I was just blown away by the stupidity. I don't have enough time to respond. And believe me, I know the truth way more than you do. So nice try. BRAVO TO YOU SIR and your classy name.

Obamarrhoids
Obamarrhoids

He's nuts? why? Do you have facts or stats to counter his position? You just provided a nice illustration of what many liberals/leftists do when they don't like hearing the truth; just personally insult who you disagree with and don't speak to the issue at all.   Bravo, well done. 

z
z

Sometimes in an effort to demonstrate objectivity we overcompensate as I think you have done just a bit here.  A completely objective analysis would have to say that Michelle's speech in content, delivery, and the way it brilliantly eviscerated Romney and the Republicans without even mentioning their names, was among one of the greatest speeches in modern times.

By comparison,  Romney,  his wife, and Ryan's speeches would not even be worth giving in a high school auditorium.

And that is being objective.

jt_va
jt_va

Objective...lol...Just a few facts to add.   Michelle went to Whitney Young,  a school for Chicago’s upper class, attended an Ivy League college, then attend Harvard Law School.  This is a privileged lifestyle.  She was employed by a law firm directly out of Harvard making a 6 figure income.  Some hardship on her.  

Her dumpster diving story...a B.S. story for the whipped-up partisan audience.  

A great speech...No.  Well delivered speech, Yes.  Content accuracy, Not even close.  She looked good in the dress.

mcnater
mcnater

so you're commenting on a speech you didn't even listen to? Classic republican move. 

Obamarrhoids
Obamarrhoids

First of all I'm not a Republican.  Second of all can you address this posted by jt_va.   "We are NOT better off:  $4 per gallon for gas; $16 trillion in debt; 42 consecutive months of 8+ % unemployment, 15% higher food prices; 46.7 Million on food stamps; lower paying jobs...This list goes on and on".

mcnater
mcnater

Guess what, she said Barack was the one who found the table in the dumpster, not her.  Did you actually listen to the speech?

Obamarrhoids
Obamarrhoids

I didn't listen to any of it. I don't like throwing up. 

Pal519
Pal519

So only the elite can go to ivy league schools? No. They worked hard for their educational endeavors, as it should be. I as well went to a top university in the U.S. with a weak financial input from my parents, but I went because my parents wanted a better life for me. Assuming someone's salary dictates their education is ignorant. 

MACV
MACV

No, I'm replying to "Obamarrhoids" ... ONCE A LIAR, ALWAYS A LIAR.

And I believe Romney was dropped off at school by his daddy;s chauffeur ...

Obamarrhoids
Obamarrhoids

Michelle Obama lied through her teeth about her "underprivileged" background. She lied so vociferously because she knew the left wing media and Kool-Aid drinking Obamanots like you would believe her.   People that go to costly private schools their whole lives don't dumpster dive.