“He’s my guy.”
Shortly after Michelle Obama’s marquee speech at the Democratic convention last night, somewhere in conservative America Karl Rove must have picked up the phone, dialed David Koch, and said, “Dave, we’re gonna need another hundred million.” Her “he’s my guy” speech electrified the house, ruined the mascara, and established Michelle Obama as the best campaigner in America.
While Michelle Obama insists that her primary role is that of Mom-in-Chief her true calling may be that of Campaigner-in-Chief. What made her so successful? One, the camera loves her. The famously buff first lady is now so buff you could be thinking, “Wait a minute, is this the Olympics?’ Second, after the yelling of former Ohio governor Ted Strickland, Michelle’s voice sounded supple, personal, and real. Her tone, her measured delivery and spot-on affect were key to her appeal. But the heart of it all was her story.
She said, in so many words, (and it wasn’t really that many) he’s my guy, through thick and thin. He’s the real deal, up from adversity, and what he cares about is making a difference. From the “concern in his eyes” to dinner time middle-school friendship strategy discussion, she conveyed a narrative that touched the attendees as few have been touched in recent cycles—except for when Barack himself spoke last time around.
Whether or not he can do that again is open to question. It pretty much goes with out saying that he is a better campaigner than president, but we shouldn’t go too far with that. The choice is not between President Obama and Mr. Perfect. The choice is between an imperfect president and a corporate raider. That Mrs. Obama was able to describe the difference in heartfelt terms is a testament to her political savvy and her sense of fine tuning a message.
The speech was not without risks to the reputation of the eminently popular first lady. In the past she has avoided the limelight in terms of real content. She has engaged without engaging, lulling interviewers like Jon Stewart into some of their most apolitical moments ever. But that was not the mission last night. Her job, like Ann Romney’s, was to “humanize” her husband. That she went so far beyond that, beyond warming up Barack’s sometimes cold-fishiness, his remoteness, and his insular governing style, went straight to her unassailable sense of real belief in the guy, of real love, and real respect.
A president’s aspirations to do right do matter. Michelle invoked the soon-to-be-familiar mantra that the work is not nearly finished, that we have more to do together. Change takes a long time, but not forever, she said.
I may be in the minority here, but I feel that one of the keys to the election for Barack Obama is not to disparage a disparagible opposition, but to make the case for why Americans should continue to believe in Mr. Obama. If, as I said, his opposition were Mr. Perfect then he would lose in a heartbeat. So would we all. If his opposition were the future of the Republican party, Paul Ryan, he would deserve to win, and not on style points, he would deserve to win on the merits of his case and his platform, meager as it is compared to perfection.
Mr. Romney is in many ways a straw candidate. That is, he is a vessel filled with the many strains of opposition to Obama. From the Tea Party to the NRA to ALEC, the opposition to Barack Obama is legion. But sometimes, what we need is not more vitriol, but a little honey, a little—to use a dangerous word—hope. And that is what Michelle delivered. It was in her tone. It was in her eyes. And it was in her story about her man. Is that a throwback narrative? It could be; it was to a degree with Ann, but in Michelle’s hands it was not. Because in our hearts, her grit is our grit. It’s what we want to live up to. Her determination to be her own person, to be part of a couple in love, to be the best parent she can be, that is us at our best. And that, she told us, is Barack. Time will tell if we are ready to believe—again. But I get the feeling she isn’t going to be far from the limelight this campaign season. And if we get discouraged, I think we know were to turn for a little shot of uplift.