Opening night at the Democratic National Convention featured a constellation of the party's stars, including Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and keynote speaker San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro. Each delivered a strong speech, but the one that most people will be talking about tomorrow morning will be First Lady Michelle Obama's.
Obama, who four years ago was sometimes criticized for speaking her mind, spoke straight from the heart Tuesday night in remarks that were both frank and emotionally stirring. She began with an honest account of the ambivalence she felt during President Obama's first White House bid and fears about how it would disrupt the life they'd so carefully built and loved.
And as has become her custom on the campaign trail, the first lady also recounted how both she and her husband grew up in families that couldn't afford a lot of material possessions but gave "us something far more valuable — their unconditional love, their unflinching sacrifice — and the chance to go places they had never imagined for themselves."
She shared her father's unflinching determination to work through the pain of multiple sclerosis and to pay the portion of his children's college tuition not covered by student loans and grants, even if he had to sometimes take out a loan to meet payment deadlines. Being able to earn a decent living and support his family was for him the measure of success, said Obama, who also talked about how hard her husband's grandmother worked to ensure that he and his sister had a more secure future "without complaint or regret" and how that shared experience has informed their lives.
"Like so many American families, our families weren't asking for much. They didn't begrudge anyone else's success or care that others had much more than they did…in fact, they admired it," she said. "They simply believed in that fundamental American promise that, even if you don't start out with much, if you work hard and do what you're supposed to do, then you should be able to build a decent life for yourself and an even better life for your kids and grandkids."
Those are the values that the president brings to his role as the nation's leader, she argued, putting politics aside and making difficult decisions based on what he thinks is in the best interest of the American people. They led him to sign the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, cut taxes for working families and small businesses and bail out the auto industry.
"When it comes to the health of our families, Barack refused to listen to all those folks who told him to leave health reform for another day, another president," the first lady said. 'He didn’t care whether it was the easy thing to do politically — that’s not how he was raised — he cared that it was the right thing to do."
Obama sprinkled her speech with stories about the first family and the concern the president has about the millions of American families less fortunate than theirs who are still struggling to recover from the economic recession. In doing so, she subtly drew contrasts between the president and his Republican rival, Mitt Romney, not by criticizing his opponent but by painting a picture of a man, her man, who, based on experiences so many Americans can easily relate to, as the person who has their best interests at heart when he makes decisions about how to move the nation forward.
The first lady ended her speech by saying that the worries she had four years ago no longer exist.
"Because today, I know from experience that if I truly want to leave a better world for my daughters, and all our sons and daughters…if we want to give all our children a foundation for their dreams and opportunities worthy of their promise…if we want to give them that sense of limitless possibility — that belief that here in America, there is always something better out there if you’re willing to work for it," she said, "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."
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(Photo: AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)