A feminist outpost in the desert.
It’s a new week, a new month and it feels as though the slow-moving storms of Isaac and the Republican National Convention are just hazy shadows from a bad dream now. (Well, except for the lasting carnage to the Gulf states from the storm.) Mitt Romney is probably wishing the convention was a dream after posting a dip in the polls rather than a bump, which is the usual after a political convention. Indeed, Romney is only the third presidential candidate ever to not get a bump in the ratings after a convention. (The other two? George McGovern and John Kerry. Not looking good Mittsy.)
But we must move on — or Forward, as the Obama campaign slogan goes — to the Democratic National Convention.
Last week I washed my hands of the RNC business early on after a “loser” speech from Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval. I passed on the love-inspired speech by First Lady-hopeful Ann Romney. But I paid for my hubris, by missing the Clint Eastwood speech in real-time. (I did watch it online, of course.) Lesson learned.
So I settled in and watched First Lady Michelle Obama last night. And, as people from all points in the political spectrum have commented, that speech did not disappoint. Like Condoleezza Rice’s speech at the RNC, Michelle Obama’s speech was full of uplifting, patriotic, uniting language. She gave a passionate retort to Romney’s rhetoric, without ever mentioning his name. Former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele even praised her speech on CNN last night. Indeed, for all the love Ann Romney tried to pack into her speech, it was hard to compare with Michelle’s unquestionably from-the-heart speech.
Is this just a matter of Michelle being better at giving speeches than Ann? That’s certainly a factor. But there are also some real gems from Michelle’s speech that will most likely live on as quotes from our time:
If farmers and blacksmiths could win independence from an empire…if immigrants could leave behind everything they knew for a better life on our shores…if women could be dragged to jail for seeking the vote…if a generation could defeat a depression, and define greatness for all time…if a young preacher could lift us to the mountaintop with his righteous dream…and if proud Americans can be who they are and boldly stand at the altar with who they love…then surely, surely we can give everyone in this country a fair chance at that great American Dream. Because in the end, more than anything else, that is the story of this country – the story of unwavering hope grounded in unyielding struggle.
I mean, if that doesn’t inspire you even just a little, then perhaps your heart is made of stone.
Now, I have watched and read Ann Romney’s speech (as well as her husband’s and Paul Ryan’s speech). I have looked over her speech more than once and now, having heard Michelle Obama’s speech. I have looked again. I don’t see that kind of … glory … in Ann’s speech. While Michelle did talk about her life with Barrack and their children, including their evolution as a family from regular folks to First Folks, that is as close as the two lady’s speeches get. Frankly, I almost wanted Michelle to take the microphone and drop it on the ground when she was done, ala Chris Rock. Is that all you got Republicans?
Just for comparison, here’s the most uplifting passage from Ann’s speech:
I want to talk not about what divides us, but what holds us together as an American family. I want to talk to you tonight about that one great thing that unites us, that one thing that brings us our greatest joy when times are good, and the deepest solace in our dark hours.
Tonight I want to talk to you about love.
Now, I must admit, I have a bit of a crush on Mrs. Obama. I met and interviewed her during a Nevada campaign stop in 2007. When I met her, I immediately wished it was she who was running for president and not her husband. Not that I don’t like Barrack. I do. But, Michelle… She’s a modern feminist. An educated, career woman who is not afraid to fight for her work/life balance. In Michelle we see a woman who believes in her career and her kids and finds a way to show that without either sphere seeming in conflict with the other (as so many “have it all” myth campaigns want to contend). And she has acknowledged the conceit of the “have it all” myth, which is, that people have help. Michelle is a strong woman with ideas and convictions, but with just the right amount of diplomacy to avoid the sort of bitchy back-talk from media pundits that always seemed to dog Hillary Clinton as FLOTUS, and even now. Not that Hillary deserves it. She’s a badass and doesn’t take any shit, about anything, and I admire her greatly. But I think we all see that there is a difference in how Michelle and Hillary have worn the mantel of First Lady.
Maybe it’s part of the differences between Democrats and Republicans that we see more dynamic speakers and First Ladies come from the Dem side. Looking at Republican First Ladies of my lifetime — Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush and Laura Bush — there was certainly a premium put on remaining (mostly) silent and not seen, Reagan’s “Just say no” anti-drug campaign notwithstanding. For whatever reason, Republican First Ladies, or First Lady-material, often comes across as stiff (Cindy McCain, anyone?) and lacking a depth of passion. (Although points off for Teresa Heinz-Kerry, in all fairness.) Say what you will for Obama and Clinton, but they are/were First Ladies with intelligence and fire.
It’s far too soon to tell if Michelle’s speech is historic, as one CNN headline tagged it, or even a game-changer in this horse race of a presidential election. But if a political convention serves to inspire and ignite the base, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say Michelle Obama’s speech did that and then some. Just looking at the explosion on Twitter — more than double the tweets-per-minute of Romney’s speech — Michelle’s got people watching and waiting for what’s next.