8.26.2008

Michelle Obama Sets the Stage at the Democratic Convention

by Rick Rockwell

No matter how you feel about the Democratic Party, this week’s convention in Denver is one for the history books.

Michelle Obama showed us why on Monday night (Aug. 25), warming up the convention for the eventual nomination of her husband, Barack, the Democratic Senator from Illinois. The potential of two young, charming, African-Americans leading the nation was there for all to see. As one African-American woman told me before the convention coverage began, even if Obama doesn’t win, just the fact a major party stood behind him sends a message about race relations in America.


Most of the convention boils down to a four-day commercial for Obama and Democratic candidates, a fesival of propaganda and arranged photo opportunities (no different from the very scripted Republican events, the party that really transformed the modern convention into an empty exercise in television posturing). However, this convention passes the Koppel test for something of importance, actual news, breaking out. (Before he left ABC News for National Public Radio and the Discovery Channel, Ted Koppel of Nightline famously said networks should stop covering the conventions because rarely did any real news happen there anymore. Certainly times have changed since Dan Rather was roughed up at the Democratic Convention in 1968, not to mention the police riot that ensued when cops decided to rough up protestors. Or, considering this incident, maybe it's the media that have changed by failing to question the status quo.)

Sure, there is at least a lukewarm sense of party unity, so the traditional squabbling among Democrats won’t be on display. Actually, any real convention tussles between the Democrats haven’t been shown for more than a generation. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) will get her time in the limelight later in the week as her name is put in nomination (she’s the third woman to officially be nominated by the Democrats, not the first). Any news about bad blood between Clinton and Obama has been old news since June. That spat is patched over for the moment.

In her address to the convention, Michelle Obama made special mention of Clinton and her candidacy putting “18 million cracks in that glass ceiling.”

Michelle Obama’s speech was actually more story than address, and she delivered it with charisma and verve. The core of her talk was all about family, sacrifice and working class values. Whoever wrote the speech knows those themes are usually what the Republicans try to sell to voters and that Michelle’s husband needs to do a better job of getting across to those who remain undecided.

Carefully, throughout the speech, Michelle Obama made special note she was proud of her country. The speechwriters again were playing on the subtexts. This was no apology for Michelle’s gaffe during the campaign that she had not been proud of America until the country took her husband seriously as a presidential candidate. However, these mentions were clearly underlining that moment and trying to erase it.

In her address, Michelle spoke of this special historic moment. She called it “the current of history meets this new tide of hope.” And the theme of the speech was “the world as it should be” delivered by a “southside girl” (referencing Chicago’s southside, where she has been a strong community advocate and where she grew up).

Even for critics, (like this one too) who have criticized the Obama team for writing speeches long on rhetorical flourishes and short on specifics, unquestionably Michelle Obama helped craft one of those important moving moments that many will look back upon years from now, whether her husband wins or loses, and remember as a breakthrough.

For more background on the 2008 campaign, please see these archival posts:

(The photo of Michelle Obama campaigning at San Jose State University in California in February 2008 is by Steve Rhodes via Flickr, using a Creative Commons License. To see Michelle Obama deliver her speech at the Democratic Convention in Denver, please check below.)















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