DENVER — Asking the wife of a candidate for president to address the national convention at which her husband is to be nominated is a relatively recent phenomenon.
And the history is a mixed one.
Hillary Clinton did a good job of it at the Democratic conventions of the 1990s.
Elizabeth Dole was scary bad at the Republican convention of 1996, and Teresa Heinz Kerry did her husband no great favors with her address to the 2004 Democratic convention.
And what of Michelle Obama?
She went into Monday facing a greater challenge than any of her predecessors.
Already the target of a vicious Republican attack campaign–that attacks her patriotism when it’s not accusing her of elitism–Michelle Obama had to introduce herself to a nation that knew very little about her and that was being warned by the GOP not to even think about falling in love with her.
“Everything about this woman has been totally distorted for political purposes,” explained Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, a Democrat. “That’s what she had to address tonight, and she did it!”
The woman who would be first lady rose to the challenge with a speech that was as gracious as it was politically smart.
At a convention where it is still a bit of a struggle to bring supporters of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton together, Michelle Obama merged the civil rights and women’s rights struggles in remarks that referenced the woman who tried to defeat her husband for the nomination.
Speaking of herself and her husband, she said:
We know what fairness and justice and opportunity look like. And he urged us to believe in ourselves – to find the strength within ourselves to strive for the world as it should be. And isn’t that the great American story?
It’s the story of men and women gathered in churches and union halls, in town squares and high school gyms – people who stood up and marched and risked everything they had – refusing to settle, determined to mold our future into the shape of our ideals.
It is because of their will and determination that this week, we celebrate two anniversaries: the 88th anniversary of women winning the right to vote, and the 45th anniversary of that hot summer day when Dr. King lifted our sights and our hearts with his dream for our nation.
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. 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: