As the wife of a candidate who could emerge as the first African American president of the United States and she as first lady, Michelle Obama seemingly won the hearts and minds of delegates with a speech that highlighted the struggles and triumphs of her family as well as families across the country.
With Monday night’s theme, “One Nation,” the Ivy League educated mother of two strove to convey to voters that her husband, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, was a hardworking husband and father – and that the Obama family shared the same values and grappled with the same problems that families across America face everyday.
Michelle wanted to reassure voters that her husband and her family were true believers in American values. “I come here as a wife who loves my husband and believes he will be an extraordinary president,” she declared.
The Princeton and Harvard educated lawyer talked about growing up in a blue collar family on the south side of Chicago and how her hard working family instilled the values of self-confidence and determination. She especially paid tribute to her father, who was stricken with multiple sclerosis in his 30s. “Dad was our champion and hero,” said Michelle. “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.”
It was that devotion to family that Michelle said instilled in her and her brother the confidence to achieve. “He and my mom poured everything they had into me and Craig. It was the greatest gift a child could receive: Never doubting for a single minute that you’re loved and cherished and have a place in this world. And thanks to their faith and their hard work, we both were able to go to college, so I know firsthand from their lives and mine that the American dream endures.”
Michelle recalled her first impressions of Obama when she was assigned to be Barack’s summer advisor at the Chicago law firm where she worked. She said that despite his “funny name,” she found out that Barack was raised by a single mother and grandparents, that they shared the same values, both believing, “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.”
Obama paid homage to former Democratic contender Hillary Clinton, and perhaps in an effort to bridge the gap of Clinton supporters, thanked her for “putting those 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling so that our daughter – and sons – can dream a little bigger and aim a little higher.”
She also praised Democratic vice president nominee Joe Biden, who she said “has 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.”
She stressed Barack’s connection with the common man and his desire to make conditions better for 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.
“All of us are 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,” Michelle declared. “And 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 the new tide of hope.”
Stressing that Barack believed that “each of us has something to contribute to the life of this nation,” Michelle pointed out Barack’s efforts to set up job training and get people back to work and after-school programs to keep kids safe, block by block to help people lift up their families. “It’s what he did in the Illinois Senate, moving people from welfare to jobs, passing tax cuts for hard-working families, and making sure women get equal pay for equal work. It’s what he’s done in the United States Senate, fighting to ensure that the men and women who serve this country are welcomed home not just with medals and parades, but with good jobs, and benefits, and health care, including mental health care.”
Pausing, she continued, “See, that’s why Barack’s running: To end the war in Iraq responsibly, to build an economy that lifts every family, to make sure health care is available for every American, and to make sure that every single child in this nation has a world-class education all the way from preschool to college.
“Millions of Americans know that Barack understands their dreams, millions of Americans know that Barack will fight for people like them, and that Barack will bring finally the change that we need.
“So tonight, in honor of my father’s memory and my daughters’ future, out of gratitude for those whose triumphs we mark this week, and those whose everyday sacrifices have brought us to this moment, let us devote ourselves to finishing their work, let us work together to fulfill their hopes, and let’s stand together to elect Barack Obama president of the United States of America.”
Pausing, she added, “Thank you. God bless you, and God bless America.”
After her speech, Michelle and Barack’s daughters – Sasha and Malia – joined Michele on stage as Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely” resounded throughout the convention hall. Obama, who was in Kansas City, Missouri, appeared on a huge screen on stage.
Barack spoke to Michelle and the audience, “You were unbelievable. Now you know why I asked her out so many times, even though she said ‘No,’” Obama joked. “You want a persistent president,” he said to thunderous applause.