Contrary to early reports that Michelle Obama would kick off the Democratic National Convention with a speech that focused on her husband and avoided attacks on his opponent, the first lady, dressed in a pink and silver brocade dress and pink pumps, delivered an impassioned, implicit critique of the Romney campaign.
Obama began by describing her trepidation at the beginning of her husband’s first term, saying she was worried that the pressure and prominence would compromise the values her family acquired in its humble upbringing, seeing Ann Romney’s anecdote about using an ironing board as dining room table and raising her one rusted-out car.
While the Republican campaign has argued that Democrats have reduced women’s issues to abortion, Obama expanded it again by relaying a story about Barack’s grandmother, who, “like so many women,” hit a glass ceiling in her job as a secretary at a community bank, watching men she trained get promoted ahead of her. Obama said that despite this humiliation, Barack’s grandmother kept working in hopes of something better for her grandson, contrasting the G.O.P.’s disingenuous “We Built That” slogan against the virtues of humility and gratitude.
That’s how they raised us … that’s what we learned from their example. We learned about dignity and decency — that how hard you work matters more than how much you make … that helping others means more than just getting ahead yourself. We learned about honesty and integrity — that the truth matters … that you don’t take shortcuts or play by your own set of rules … and success doesn’t count unless you earn it fair and square. We learned about gratitude and humility — that so many people had a hand in our success, from the teachers who inspired us to the janitors who kept our school clean … and we were taught to value everyone’s contribution and treat everyone with respect.
The first family’s roots thus reaffirmed, Obama delivered the first of several memorable lines based on the lessons of her husband’s first term.
“Being President doesn’t change who you are, it reveals who you are,” she said, before launching into a highlight reel of the most pro-business, true-blue Democrat moments of the Obama administration’s first term. They included: signing Lilly Ledbetter, giving tax breaks to small business, bailing out the auto industry, passing the Affordable Care Act (including, notably, women making their own decisions about their bodies and their health care), and voicing his support for gay marriage (which she later categorized alongside women’s suffrage and the civil rights movement).
“When you walk through the door of opportunity you do not slam it behind you,” she said. “No. You reach back and give other people the same choices that help you succeed.”
Last week, Ann Romney wondered “if the last four years had been more successful, do we really think there would be this attack on Mitt Romney’s success?” Tonight, Obama slyly rebutted her economic sour grapes argument by redefining success.
“For Barack, success isn’t about how much money you make, it’s about the difference you make in people’s lives.”
Picking up San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro’s highly retweetable metaphor — that the American dream is not a sprint or a marathon but a relay — Obama concluded that she had decided four more years are in the best interest of future generations, including her daughters’.
“I say this tonight not just as first lady, not just as a wife,” she said. “At the end of the day my most important title is still mom-in-chief.”