Monday, August 25, 2008

DNC Day 1: Three cheers for the closer

Something got lost in the frantic runup to the Democratic National Convention just started in Denver. It took Michelle Obama, the wife of the presumptive Democratic convention, to remind us. We’ve been told for months now that Sen. Barack Obama would make his formal acceptance of the nomination on the 45th anniversary of the “I Have a Dream” speech of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. That kind of historical juxtaposition couldn’t be ignored.

Michelle Obama reminded us of the historical hookup we’ve managed to overlook. Days earlier this month, on Aug 18, the nation marked the 88th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, extending to women the right to vote. The fact that we overlooked it is exactly the problem.

The short-term wisdom of some in the punditburo said that tonight’s opening of the Democratic convention didn’t go far enough in going on the offensive, of pursuing the pitbull approach favored by Republican strategists and by some cable talking heads who can’t get enough confrontation on the air.

What was less obvious was the masterful move by Michelle Obama, who positioned herself, and by extension her husband’s campaign, squarely in the center of the American experience. It’s the dead center of the national experience that matters deeply to the heart of American women.

In a speech riveting in its understatement and compelling in its nuance, Michelle Obama recounted her own personal history as a woman, a daughter, a wife, a mother and an American, outlined that personal narrative in ways that connected with the experiences of the 153 million Americans who are women.

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"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 said. "All of them driven by the same conviction that drove my dad to get up an hour early each day to painstakingly dress himself for work. The same conviction that drives the men and women I've met all across this country:

"People who work the day shift, kiss their kids goodnight, and head out for the night shift - without disappointment, without regret - that goodnight kiss a reminder of everything they're working for.

"The military families who say grace each night with an empty seat at the table. The servicemen and women who love this country so much, they leave those they love most to defend it.

"The young people across America serving our communities - teaching children, cleaning up neighborhoods, caring for the least among us each and every day. ...

"All of us driven by a 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. 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. ..."

Even watching the convention on TV it was obvious that connection was made. Women throughout the hall, many of them solid as a rock for Obama, others ardent supporters of Sen. Hillary Clinton, were in tears as she spoke. In her address, confessional without being maudlin, Michelle Obama had done what the pundits said Barack had not: pierced the barrier between Team Obama and women of all stations of American life.

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That fact may do more to rip down the purported wall between women and the campaign than any appeal from Clinton, who can be counted on just the same to make that appeal on Tuesday night. Michelle Obama eloquently expressed the common struggle facing all women in this country, and sought to enlist them for service to the country, not just the Democratic party, and not certainly one outsize personality within the party — her husband's or Hillary Clinton's.

And she did it with the best kind of politics: relating a family chronicle not straight out of the Huxtables but a story that ought to resonate with the Smiths and the Wilsons, the Johnsons and Joneses of America. Everyday people everywhere.

Throughout the primary campaign Barack took pride more than once in calling Michelle Obama “the closer.” It’s a marvelously American word with applications from baseball to real estate to the corporate world. The closer is the one who wins the game, seals the deal, locks it down with finality.

It’s ironic that tonight the closer was the opener, the convention’s first full-on identification with America. But if Barack Obama seals his own deal with the American people in November, he can thank the closer for opening the door.

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