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Michelle’s speech on family values

Jacob Wheeler

Michelle Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention last night had one purpose — to convince Americas that she is as typical a family-woman as they come, capable of tucking her daughters into bed at night, packing their school lunches in the morning, and supporting her husband, like any good wife (in his improbable quest for a job in the White House). The powers that be in the Democratic Party would much rather have you believe in this Michelle Obama than the one maligned in the right-wing media for saying “For the first time in my life I’m proud of my country” or presented on the parody cover of a recent issue of The New Yorker magazine as a Kalashnikov-toting, America-hating black panther. The Dems have been working hard on fixing Michelle’s image. That’s why she spent most of her keynote address last night talking about the ultra-familiar, and soothing topic of family: sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, grandparents, brothers, sisters and husbands. How many times did she use such words? I just re-read her speech on the Obama campaign website and found familial words used 47 times … in 42 paragraphs. Here were a few snippets: “Like Craig, I can feel my dad looking down on us … I come here tonight as a sister, blessed with a brother who is my mentor … I come here as a wife who loves my husband … I come here as a Mom whose girls are the heart of my heart and the center of my world — they're the first thing I think about when I wake up in the morning, and the last thing I think about when I go to bed at night … And I come here as a daughter … my mother's love has always been a sustaining force for our family … my Dad was our rock.” Toward the end of the speech Michelle uttered a stand-alone line that sought to overshadow her perceived gaffe about pride and country. “That is why I love this country.” Then she painted a picture of Barack as the quintessential, loyal father. “He’s the same man who drove me and our new baby daughter home from the hospital ten years ago this summer, inching along at a snail’s pace, peering anxiously at us in the rearview mirror, feeling the whole weight of her future in his hands, determined to give her everything he’d struggled so hard for himself, determined to give her what he never had: the affirming embrace of a father’s love.” We all remember how her address ended, of course. The girls coming up on stage and talking to Daddy through a television screen. Barack was in Kansas City, meeting with a family who, we were told, are undecided, swing-state voters. The Illinois senator looked decidedly relaxed, and the scene in the room behind him looked traditional, and familiar: a white family with children sitting on couches while watching the Convention; Barack in casual attire, a wedding photo of the mom and dad sitting on a mantel behind him as he spoke to his wife and daughters in Denver. Will the framing of Michelle as a typical Midwestern mother and wife — and not as an angry black revolutionary — convince the American voters? If I see Bill O’Reilly inside the Pepsi Center tonight, I’ll ask him …

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Jacob Wheeler is a contributing editor at In These Times.
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