Michelle Obama’s singular mission last night was to convince Americans that she and the president deeply understand the real challenges facing Americans today, and she aced it. With a relaxed grace that wowed the convention hall, she spoke in personal terms of a common American experience and voiced a deep belief that a shared connection allows her husband to fight for all of us, but especially the women. Against a backdrop of the GOP assault on women’s rights and an economic recession disproportionately affecting women, her words offered a handhold for the slipping hope that ran rampant just four years ago.
While she never mentioned either Romney by name, the obvious juxtaposition of the couples’ lives and core beliefs was woven silently into anecdotes and stated principles throughout the speech. The emotion in her voice was audible as Michelle recounted watching her father struggle to dress himself every morning for his physically demanding job at the water plant. The family needed the money despite his progressive multiple sclerosis. The painted image automatically conjured up a comparison with Ann Romney’s idyllic upbringing as the privileged daughter of a small town mayor.
When Michelle relayed the constant worry of her parents as they scraped and sacrified to afford the small portion of college tuition not covered by federal grants and loans, we were remided of Ann Romney’s description of how tough it was to live off of Mitt’s stock portfolio while they were newleyweds in college. Working moms around the country chuckled with camaraderie when Michelle said date night for her and Barack as parents was dinner or a movie because “as an exhausted mom, I couldn’t stay awake for both.” Ann Romney’s full-time mothering was no doubt exhausting, they must have been silently musing, but since she didn’t have to juggle a job as well, she might have gotten both dinner and a movie. And in a final blow, Michelle deftly but gently cut the heart out of of the GOP narrative and Mitt Romney’s top selling point when she said softly that for Barack “success isn’t about how much money you make, it’s about the difference you make in people’s lives.”
While Michelle was the main event, the entire evening was a veritable paean to the women voters this campaign needs to win. If the convention stage was the floor of the House, what are commonly referred to as “women’s issues” would be front and center in a Democratic offensive to rebuild the middle class and own the principles of equality and justice.
With female leaders of labor, government and health advocacy speaking all night long, the crowd was primed as the evening wore on. The men also paid homage to the women who got them to the stage, and pledged to fight for a better future for everyone’s daughters. Julian Castro, the young mayor from San Antonio, delivered a standout performance based largely on his life story of being raised by his mother and grandmother. It was a moving nod to the immigrant experience being made possible by strong women.
By the time Lilly Ledbetter took the stage, the crowd erupted in a frenzy something like teenage fans at a Jonas Brothers concert. The notorious blond grandmother from Alabama sued all the way to the Supreme Court after discovering male counterparts at her tire factory earned more than she did. Smart and sassy, Ledbetter summed up the real-life impact of a twenty-three cent pay gap: the ability to take the family to the occasional movie and still have pennies left over for the college savings account. Ledbetter scored one of the best responses of the night when she mused: “Maybe twenty-three cents doesn’t sound like much for someone with a Swiss Bank account….”