Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Charlotte: Michelle Obama: A love story


STRICKLAND got ‘em fired up. Patrick flat-out tore the place up. But when Michelle Obama finished tonight, her star, already meteoric, achieved a new apogee in the national culture. In a speech that deftly blended the biographical, the practical, the emotional and the political, the first lady of the United States proved she’s every bit as adroit at retail politics as anyone — and better than most anyone for her ability to convey an apolitical political message.

Michelle — Buffed! Resplendent! Luminous! — went before the audience at the Time Warner Cable Arena and wrapped a valentine to her husband and family inside another valentine to her country.

She recounted the life story we’ve heard in the 2008 campaign: growing up in a family holding onto middle-class status by its fingernails; her father, a sufferer of multiple sclerosis who nonetheless cheerfully went to work every day as a water-plant pump operator; how she met and fell in love with a young, ambitious man from Chicago; how she started an American family that would, eventually, become the First Family. Hers is a love story, one with universal applications.

“Like so many American families, our families weren’t asking for much. … They simply believed in that fundamental American promise: that even if you don’t start out with much, if you work hard and do what you are supposed to do, you should be able to build a decent life for yourself and an even better life for your kids and grandkids. That’s how they raised us.”

That’s probably how your folks raised you, too.

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The first lady savors her role as “mom-in-chief” and said as much, but tonight she was also part coach (“We are playing a long game here”), part tough-love expert, part national motivational speaker. “Doing the impossible is the history of this nation,” she said. “It is who we are as Americans. It is how this nation was built.”

More than anything, her speech reflects a sure grasp and application of verstehen, the ability to understand the meaning of an action from the actor’s perspective — simply put, to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. It’s that empathy that’s made her the president’s most reliable, most persuasive surrogate.

NBC’s Andrea Mitchell pigeonholed New York Sen. Chuck Schumer some minutes after the speech. Schumer, mensch that he is, was pitch-perfect in his comprehension of the first lady’s speech, and spot-on about what it accomplished.

“The whole job of this convention is to show the average middle-class person that we’re gonna do more for them than the other side. She did that ... It wasn’t just, ‘I love my husband and he’s a great guy and a great father.’ Mrs. Romney did that too. But [Michelle Obama] tied that to what average people go through. She talked about the student loans they had when they got out of school. The Romneys wouldn’t know what a student loan was if it stared them in the face ...

“If [Obama’s speech] is a metaphor for the rest of the convention, I’m excited, because I think it will mean that we are connecting to average folks.”

Image credits: Michelle Obama: DNC pool video feed. Obama 2012 logo: From the campaign.

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