Like many of the misty-eyed audience members at Tuesday night’s DNC, I too was carried away by the Michelle Obama’s seemingly heartfelt speech. I was especially touched by her stories about her father who struggled with multiple sclerosis and worked his whole life, even taking out loans, to send her and her brother to college. It was eloquent, it was moving, but it was expected.
When candidates’ wives take the stage they have but one job; to make their husband likable. They do this by invoking sentimental anecdotes about their lives, their husband’s lives or their lives together as a couple and family. These stories pull at our heart strings and attempt to convince us that their significant other is really a good person with a strong moral compass. The stories about growing up poor with hard working parents appeal at our “common folk” identity – leading us to conclude that the candidate in question is just like us. Many spouses have tried and many have failed. But at Tuesday night’s DNC, Michelle Obama hit a home run.
Walking out to Stevie Wonder's "Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours," the crowd cheered with excitement as the First Lady took the stand and prepared to make the case for her husband. She assured audience members that her husband is a "man we can trust” and hailed his integrity.
“Being president doesn’t change who you are, it reveals who you are,” she said. “And as president you’re going to get all kinds of advice from all kinds of people. But at the end of the day when it comes time to make that decision as President, all you have to guide you are your values and your vision and your life experiences that make you who you are.”
The first lady told audience members that her husband stays up late at night, pouring over letters from people telling him about their struggles and pleading for his help.
“I see how that’s what drives Barack Obama,” she said. “I love that how for Barack, there’s no such thing as us and them … he knows that we all love our country.”
When Michelle Obama wasn’t trying to win votes for her husband by presenting him as “one of us,” she was reinforcing two of America’s strongest myths: The myth of American exceptionalism and the myth of the American Dream – perhaps our two most damaging national ethos.
She praised military members who “sacrifice their lives for our most fundamental rights” and, in doing so, justified the wars the United States is waging. Quoting a young man she met who was blinded by a bomb in Afghanistan, she said, “I’d give my eyes 100 times again to have the chance to do what I have done and what I can still do.”
In addition to her support for empire, Michelle Obama ended her speech with almost Romney-like close about how, in America, sacrifice and hard work are the keys to prosperity. Her words kindly rebutted the complaints of the millions unemployed; the 99%:
“That belief that here in America, there is always something better out there if you're willing to work for it ... then we must work like never before ... and we must once again come together and stand together for the man we can trust to keep moving this great country forward ... my husband, our president, President Barack Obama.”