The First Lady Argues for a Second Term: Michelle Obama’s Convention Speech

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Brendan Hoffman / Prime for TIME

First Lady Michelle Obama is shown on a television screen as she speaks at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Sept. 4, 2012.

On Tuesday night Michelle Obama bared her arms, held America’s hand and threw some elbows. In delivering one of the most impassioned convention speeches in recent memory, the vibrant First Lady framed President Obama’s emphasis on fairness in emotive personal anecdotes. The crowd was moved to tears and cheers of “four more years.” And though she never mentioned Mitt Romney by name, her case for her husband’s second term was also one against the challenger’s credentials.

As she did in 2008, Obama structured her remarks around her blue-collar biography. But this time, there were implied contrasts with those who didn’t come to understand American values by scraping by for the American dream. She told the story of her father, who worked through multiple sclerosis and took out loans to put her through school. “That’s what it meant to be a man,” she said. “Like so many of us, that was the measure of his success in life: being able to earn a decent living that allowed him to support his family.” Last week when prominent Republicans mentioned the word success, it was code for Romney’s wealth. “Success isn’t about how much money you make,” the First Lady said. “It’s about the difference you make in people’s lives.”

(PHOTOS: The Democratic National Convention)

Michelle made the audience feel like they were peeking behind the Obama’s curtains. She told stories of dating young Barack, who had a rusty car and shoes a half-size too small. She joked about how the couple had once owed more on their combined student loans than on their mortgage. “We were so young, so in love–and so in debt,” she said. “For Barack these issues [like student loans] aren’t political, they’re personal.” The President was described as a dad, a man who counseled his daughters on middle school friendships during family dinners.

At the beginning of her speech, Obama emphasized how anxious she had been in 2008. “Like any mother, I was worried about what it would mean for our girls,” she said. Since then, she had changed. But her husband hadn’t. “When it comes to his character and his convictions and his heart,” she said, “Barack Obama is still the same man I fell in love with all those years ago.” She implied that while she wasn’t in the same historic moment, when America was on the cusp of electing the country’s first African-American President, her husband was still the same historic figure.

(PHOTOS: The Obama Brand)

The First Lady spoke empathetically of the people she had met during her travels around “the greatest nation on earth,” the teachers and the firefighters and the military families. Discussing a reelection battle that’s taking place amid a struggling economy, she could hardly paint a rosy picture, but she could argue that the painting was unfinished. “We’ve got to keep working to fix this,” she said. “We’ve got so much more to do.” She championed healthcare reform, victories for the LGBT community and her husband’s support of women’s issues.

Romney’s strength lies in is his image as an effective businessman, in what his number-crunching mastery could do for the country’s financial woes. And Obama had a counterpoint to make there, too. She said she had watched the work of a President up close, seeing how hard decisions were made. No amount of facts or analysis creates a path to the right decision, she said: “All you have to guide you are your values and your vision.” Convention speeches are usually about making a connection between the right man and the right moment—a job that was much easier when speaking about a challenger in 2008 than an incumbent in 2012. But she argued that he was an even better man now. “I have seen firsthand that being President doesn’t change who you are,” she said. “It reveals who you are.” The crowd roared in approval. The question is whether the voters watching the speech at home will feel the same.

55 comments
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captwasabi
captwasabi

“Success isn’t about how much money you make,” the First Lady said. “It’s about the difference you make in people’s lives.”Yeah, that's what poor people always say.

Far more people have benefitted from Bill Gtes success than from the success of my housecleaner.

Far more people benefited from the philanthrophy of Andrew Carnegie then they ever did from the philanthrophy of my car mechanic.

Regardless of how Ms. Nobama interpreted the use of the word "success" most Republicans I know of define "success" as "being able to achieve your goal despite onerous gov't meddling."

tonilaura
tonilaura

My father told me "It's not how much money you make or the joy you have making it, it is how much you enjoy the job".  If Obama believes this country is so good, why is he fighting so hard to change it?  And government is all we have?  Then we have nothing.

ERenger
ERenger

“Success isn’t about how much money you make,” the First Lady said. “It’s about the difference you make in people’s lives.”

-------------

The line was in the context of Obama's choice to work for the benefit of other people in his early life, rather than to accept the lucrative, high-paying job offers he received when he graduated. Millions of people make the same choice, and choose to pursue teaching, or police work, or firefighting or any number of fulfilling and altruistic career paths that don't necessarily pay that much. But they are all still successful when measured by something other than money.

More people may have benefitted from Bill Gates success that the success of your housekeeper. But have more benefitted from Bill Gates success than have benefitted from the millions of teachers who chose less lucrative careers? 

tonilaura
tonilaura

You know, Mrs. Obama placed her hand (good theater) over her heart when speaking of her daughters.  My understanding is that while the Obamas worked, her mother cared for the children.  She never mentioned with thanks.   I sure was glad my mother was there for my children when my husband and  I had to worked.  Yet, these same  good people condemn Mrs. Romney for her staying at home to care for her children.  Please, so the ill woman had money to hire help, she was still within hand reach.  I am sorry, it was still con.

filmnoia
filmnoia

You are much kinder to this troll than I was. They really don't deserve, or expect, a polite and rational answer.  That's not what they are about. Certainly, Michelle's statement goes to the heart of who Barack is. He could have been a millionaire lawyer many times over by now  defending polluters and financial chiselers, but chose the path of light.

It will be interesting to see what he does with his life when his second term is over. I'd love to see Michelle run for Senator from Illinois in 2016.

tonilaura
tonilaura

Hey, he is a millionaire!  He just made it not practicing law except as a senior lecturer and consultant.  Some lawyers are not made for the courtroom.  And as Senator, why exclude Mr. Obama?  President Johnson came back to Congress after being President.  Oh, I forgot, there was a Senator Obama, didn't do much but campaign

ERenger
ERenger

I'm attempting to be kind to trolls these days. (Unless there is an opening for an epic snark.)

Michelle Obama certainly could have her own future in politics, if she wanted one. I'm not sure it is what she wants. It will be interesting to see what she does in 2016 and when her kids are grown. 

AfGuyReturns
AfGuyReturns

...most Republicans I know of define "success" as "being able to achieve your goal despite onerous gov't meddling."

We know, we know... especially the part about "most Republicans".

The Interstate Highway system is therefore a failure, as is the Internet, our Space Program, disease control, power grid, rural electrification, hydro-electric power, etc.

Want me to go on and mention more of our supposed "failures" because they involved the government?

Honestly, how do you get your shoes on in the morning? I'd think the hemorrhoids would block your vision...

tonilaura
tonilaura

And all this was done by who?  Didn't Congress initiate anything?  And didn't the taxpayer put in their say, with their tax money?  At least when the Interstates were built the money was here for American jobs.  Space program was good too but now we pay Russia for piggy back rides.  Disease:  Good use for the outbreak of West Nile fever in Texas from the present government.  hydro-electric power?  When a company can skirt the EPA.  

I just slip my shoes on.  I don't have laced boots.  Hemorrhoids only when pregnant.

filmnoia
filmnoia

Actually, I think he brushes his teeth with Preparation H.

Sue_N.
Sue_N.

I also kind of like knowing I don't have to boil my water before drinking it and what's in the food I cook for my family. Oh, and that the plane we just sent our daughter back to college in (probably) won't randomly collide with another. 

tonilaura
tonilaura

Yes, like wondering if GMO corn in cans, frozen foods labels should have a cross and skull and bones on them.  Or any other food.  Guess  homesteading is looking good to grow one's own.

AfGuyReturns
AfGuyReturns

Yeah, I forgot about that other "failure"... a seamless, integrated air traffic control system, that works regardless of what state you are flying over.

Maybe "kemosabi" doesn't like to fly, seeing as how his life would be in the hands of some other "gubmint employees".

Forgot the military, too... and police.  Maybe he would feel safer being protected by Blackwater/Xe/whatever the h*ll they are calling themselves this week.

AlistairCookie
AlistairCookie

 We get it, the only measure of success is money--doesn't matter what kind of a person you are, whether your kindness touches lives, how one treats their family, etc.  It's just how much money you have.

Funny, people who speak like this often fall much lower on the economic spectrum than they think.  I think it's why they need to feel superior to those they perceive as lower than them--like housecleaners and car mechanics.

At least you haven't invoked any sort of pretend Christianity (like so many of the GOP like to do) while demonizing poor people and bowing down --so at least you aren't a hypocrite.

Now could you please stop being so shrill and lay off the class warfare?  Denigrating the working class to the fealty of the upper-upper class is actual class warfare. 

Go ahead and respond with some more vitriol; perhaps work in an "Obummer" or some comment about the First Lady being ugly or something.  Or some fabricated way the government has onerously meddled in your life and prevented your success. 

Please have the last word.

tonilaura
tonilaura

Tit for Tat.  You have corrected my spelling right so, may I correct yours "have know idea" should have been "have no idea" ?  Seriously, women who have children and work often wish for a mother to care for their children. I was fortunate in having my mother. And it has been decades since women found it necessary to work, and sometimes not for necessity but for filling a personal need.  I don't fault any of them.  I fall in to both categories.  Nor does it mean that stay at home moms are better.  Do I wish I could have been able to stay home till each child reched school age?  You bet I do!  

tonilaura
tonilaura

Heaven forbid we might cast asperations on any Obama.  But since her mother raised her children ,undoubtedly necessary as it was for us, she could have acknowledged the job grandmother did, at least a "Thanks".

tonilaura
tonilaura

I guess the point was give credit where credit is due.

AlistairCookie
AlistairCookie

 You mean "aspersions", not aspirations.

And I have know idea what was "undoubtedly necessary" "for us". 

Not that I mentioned Michelle Obama's mother at all in my post, and not that anyone usually implies childcare equals raising children, but I guess she could have thrown in a public, non sequitur "thank you" to her mom?

And I'll end with a rousing, "Huh?'  What was your point?

z
z

If anyone actually understood the way Romney crunches numbers it would actually be his greatest liability.  He has only one number and thats based on whats in it for him.

tonilaura
tonilaura

And Senior Lecturer/President Obama, is doing all this from the goodness of his heart?  Man, Obama has been campaigning for the last fifteen years at least.

Sue_N.
Sue_N.

As I said on teh Twitter, even if I didn't support Obama, I'd vote for him because he had the good sense to marry Michelle.

Seriously, I've watched a lot of convention speeches in my day (I may be something of a junkie), and hers was one of the best I remember. It was just so human. And because we have a good friend who has MS, her memories of her father and his struggles were powerful.

I'd expected a good speech. But she went far beyond my expectations. And the fact that both my daughters – my sharply political 15YO and utterly apolitical 19YO – look up to her with ardent admiration speaks volumes.

tonilaura
tonilaura

No doubt, good theater.  Wonder who wrote it?  Better then " For the first time I am proud to be an American"  which had taken over forty years but that was before the speechwriters.

captwasabi
captwasabi

Seriously? You are the prime example of why there should be a civics test as a requirement to vote.

You're basing who you vote to office of the worlds sole supoerpower based on who they married? Not whether they can run an administration or whether they had any positive impact on the unemployment rate. No, those reasons are far to mundane.

There simply is no excuse for being as stupid as you.

tonilaura
tonilaura

Not necessarily stupid but naive?

gcaver
gcaver

Did you miss the "seriously," which implied that Sue_N. was joking when she said that she'd vote for BO based on his having married M? 

Maybe you should be a little less profligate with the "as stupid as you" comments.

UpPoppedSpotty
UpPoppedSpotty

All those people voting for Bush II as a "Man they'd like to have a beer with....." should surely disenfranchise themselves according to this argument. Anyone who a) believes anything Romney or Ryan say (whatever it may be - at the moment who knows?) or b) knows what the consequences their policies will be in implementational terms is probably suffering from a delusion closer to lunacy than anyone who choses a candidate for more esoteric reasons.  Take off the blinkers, please.

There are moments when character trumps all, and clearly the Republican ticket is devoid of any, other than in combination with the words False .......... Assassination. Oh, by the way the view from this side of the pond is one of playground bitterness on the side of Republicans who, not content with offering to screw the world economy all over again, also hope to enact World War 3 and pursue policies of Sex Discrimination equitable to Uganda. Well I guess that's progress of one kind -  the rest of humanity would like to go Forward.

tonilaura
tonilaura

Well, we do know that the promises of Obama are just words.  Character?  Whose?   It took President Bush eight years to put us in debt to the tune of $10 trillion.  Obama took all of what, 16 months and now the National Debt is over $16 trillion.   Just think of the fun there will be if he is re-elected.  Why in no time we will be so in debt, we will have to divided the nation among the creditors.  But then Obama did say he wanted a change, didn't he?  Transparency was 

also a word he used, wasn't it?   Guess my glasses have a thick coat of Obama dimming the scene. Can't afford to buy new ones.

Sue_N.
Sue_N.

Humor – get some.

And I could probably pass a civics test with a much higher grade than you.

I actually vote based on issues, not talking points or groupthink or fear. I look at facts.

I'm also not into limiting who can vote. Which is probably a good thing for you.

Diecash1
Diecash1

 Ol' Bill just used your line!  Nice.  Don't mind the trolls.  They're ever present these days as they grow increasingly desperate in the wake of Mitten's failed campaign.

tonilaura
tonilaura

Well, I limit voting to American citizens.

filmnoia
filmnoia

Why don't you haters and bigots scamper back into your cave and pick the thorn out of your paw?

History is passing you by and your rear guard action of resentment and venom isn't working, just like GOP voter suppression will ultimately fail. The only one stupid here is you, you cretin.

tonilaura
tonilaura

I wish the past, which is history,the past four years could be erased.  History isn't passing anyone bye.  It is galloping over us.

deconstructiva
deconstructiva

I see Judge Narragansett is trolling here. Who appointed him to rewrite the Constitution and insult others? No doubt RW pleas for civics tests for voting are just another round of dog whistles to skirt around the constitutional + SCOTUS rulings that struck down limits on voting rights against those "other people" (poll taxes, etc.).

charlieromeobravo
charlieromeobravo

"Romney’s strength lies in is his image as an effective businessman, in what his number-crunching mastery could do for the country’s financial woes."

That's a scary thought.  What if Romney looks at the numbers and decides that America would be more profitable if he just extracted his management fees, laid off half the country to boost the country's short term balance sheet, and then sold it off in pieces?

tonilaura
tonilaura

I doubt Romney would take Obama's past actions for himself.

AlistairCookie
AlistairCookie

 Did you see the Daily Show last week where they [mock of course] ran the country like a corporation and laid off states that were unproductive?

charlieromeobravo
charlieromeobravo

Yeah, that was pretty good.  The reactions from the "taker" state delegates was funny and I loved how they left it up to the donor states to decide whether Missouri should stay or be booted from the union.  It finely illustrates a point that doesn't get brought up enough:  the goals of business and the goals of government are not the same.  It's not unreasonable to believe that the CEO skill set doesn't necessarily set someone up to be an effective president.

tonilaura
tonilaura

Gee, just a show?  Oh, thanks, I though all this was really happening.  The Nation is safe?  We are still one?

AlistairCookie
AlistairCookie

Yeah, after Akin especially, the donor states would vote to boot us I'm sure.

It is funny to note the political leanings of the states who are net "takers" and net "donors".  Never let it be said that people don't bite the hand that feeds.  Logic would dictate it to be the complete reverse.

I thought the whole segment was really sharp and made a couple of good, biting points, for anyone who was paying attention.  ;)

deconstructiva
deconstructiva

Thanks, Katy. Hopefully you and swamp teammates will get some sleep. Wednesday will be a busy day. Bettet yet, maybe y'all will stay up for drinking, pondering, and super early breakfasts and Taco Bell fourthmeals so that NO sleep is gained. Sleep deprivation often fuels creativity (college days!).

.

The natural followup for you / teammates to write during breakfast is a comparison between Michelle’s and Ann Romney’s speeches. Both served to promote their hubbies. However, I think Ann had major disadvantages that made selling Mitt harder: his own background at Bain / getting rich at workers’ firings / expenses, the harsh R platform lacking empathy, etc. Michelle had the easier task (she had fewer negatives to overcome) and this allowed her to focus on the positive aspects and hit a grand slam.

tonilaura
tonilaura

Very true.  Michelle's speech was well delivered and I hope the practicing didn't exhaust her too much.  As for Ann?  I could believe her.

dunedweller
dunedweller

To your first comment -- at the end of the convention last night my husband said “Norah O’Donnell is wearing the same dress she had on at 7:00AM this morning - doesn’t she get any breaks?”  I thought that was a funny observation, but surely these events must make for a long work day! 

deconstructiva
deconstructiva

edit / followup –  KT wrote a late night blog post with similar thoughts. Some commenters there did compare Michelle and Ann. Any swamp commentariat signed up there can dive in. Hope KT replies after some sleep.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/...

deconstructiva
deconstructiva

Another edit - WaPo edited most her post into oblivion. Now it's just a teaser to her other longer post (and the reader comments now float out of context though the other story is similar, just longer).

http://www.washingtonpost.com/... 

politathiest
politathiest

even our own too conservative Wonder Twins here would have to admit that that was a pretty awesome speech. and looking at Michelle physicaly we can pretty much guarantee that Obama will never pull a Monica lowinsky routine.....she would KICK HIS ASH!

truthzone
truthzone

Well, looking at her physically, Barack wouldn't want to. Michelle is a beautiful and appealing woman.

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®©
ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®©

Rusty and spambot admit a fact? 

I suppose it's possible...in theory.

~

captwasabi
captwasabi

Oh please stop pretending as if the left never lies. Please develop some degree of integrity and wake up.

MrObvious
MrObvious

We're not talking about the entire 'right' or the entire 'left'.

We're talking about 2 known liars; what they vote for is irrelevant.

AfGuyReturns
AfGuyReturns

Did you hurt yourself with that "leap"?

Mental "groin strains" can be quite painful...