By Ruth Ferguson, NDG Editor
When President-Elect Barack Obama and the new First Family walked out together on stage at Grant Park in Chicago, many seem to forget that the improbable victory could easily be credited to Michelle Obama. At the beginning of his journey to the White House, heated discussions around the country focused on if the U.S. Senator was too much like a professor to be embraced by the African American community.
Today President Obama’s likeability is one of his greatest assets. But in 2008 the speculation was if he was “black enough” to be embraced by the African American community. Campaign strategists took note of how well received Michelle Obama was received. Her easy grace, intelligence blended with her down to earth concerns about the safety of her husband and well being of her children.
As more African American women began to know her, they became more willing to give her husband further consideration in his campaign against former First Lady and then U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton. While many other factors contributed to his ultimate victory, observers admit that without the reception of Michelle in places like South Carolina early in the primary season, victory was unlikely.
Flash forward four years later, and despite his considerable accomplishments President Obama is in a statistical tie with GOP nominee Mitt Romney. Today you see more 2008 Obama bumper stickers than 2012 by 20 to 1, leading to speculation that the apathy of his political base could cost him a four-year extension on his temp job.
Also, there are concerns that as the campaign strategists vigorously pursue the gay community and the Hispanic vote – that perhaps they are forgetting the Black vote. There is an enthusiasm gap across all voting groups, but it is very pronounced in the Black community.
And then on the opening night of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina First Lady Michelle Obama brought the house down and perhaps re-charged the president’s re-election campaign. In a night focused on the crucial female voters the First Lady sought to remind voters why they liked her husband in the first place.
In a speech she reportedly personally spent month writing, the First Lady’s performance received nearly universal compliments from the talking heads across news network pundits.
CNN’s Wolf Blitzer proclaimed, “The First Lady did not hit a home run, she hit a grand slam.”
MSNBC political analyst and former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele said, “I thought the First Lady gave a hell of a speech. I know I’m supposed to be all partisan, but I’m an American. That was a very good speech given by the First Lady. You gotta give props were props were due.”
Fox News Chris Wallace criticized the speech as being all about government, he did acknowledge it was heartfelt and declared it was masterful.
So, if President Obama wins re-election, perhaps a good amount of the credit will belong to the speech given by the First Lady.
Below are excerpts from the speech:
“You see, even though back then Barack was a Senator and a presidential candidate…to me, he was still the guy who’d picked me up for our dates in a car that was so rusted out, I could actually see the pavement going by through a hole in the passenger side door…he was the guy whose proudest possession was a coffee table he’d found in a dumpster, and whose only pair of decent shoes was half a size too small.
But when Barack started telling me about his family – that’s when I knew I had found a kindred spirit, someone whose values and upbringing were so much like mine.
You see, Barack and I were both raised by families who didn’t have much in the way of money or material possessions but who had given us something far more valuable – their unconditional love, their unflinching sacrifice, and the chance to go places they had never imagined for themselves.”
“Barack’s grandmother started out as a secretary at a community bank…and she moved quickly up the ranks…but like so many women, she hit a glass ceiling.
And for years, men no more qualified than she was – men she had actually trained – were promoted up the ladder ahead of her, earning more and more money while Barack’s family continued to scrape by.
But day after day, she kept on waking up at dawn to catch the bus…arriving at work before anyone else…giving her best without complaint or regret.
And she would often tell Barack, “So long as you kids do well, Bar, that’s all that really matters.”
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.
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.
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.
Those are the values Barack and I – and so many of you – are trying to pass on to our own children.
That’s who we are.”
“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.
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.
He did it because he believes that here in America, our grandparents should be able to afford their medicine…our kids should be able to see a doctor when they’re sick…and no one in this country should ever go broke because of an accident or illness.
And he believes that women are more than capable of making our own choices about our bodies and our health care…that’s what my husband stands for.
When it comes to giving our kids the education they deserve, Barack knows that like me and like so many of you, he never could’ve attended college without financial aid.
And believe it or not, when we were first married, our combined monthly student loan bills were actually higher than our mortgage.
We were so young, so in love, and so in debt.
That’s why Barack has fought so hard to increase student aid and keep interest rates down, because he wants every young person to fulfill their promise and be able to attend college without a mountain of debt.
So in the end, for Barack, these issues aren’t political – they’re personal.
Because Barack knows what it means when a family struggles.
He knows what it means to want something more for your kids and grandkids.
Barack knows the American Dream because he’s lived it…and he wants everyone in this country to have that same opportunity, no matter who we are, or where we’re from, or what we look like, or who we love.
And he believes that when you’ve worked hard, and done well, and walked through that doorway of opportunity…you do not slam it shut behind you…you reach back, and you give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed.”
“I see the concern in his eyes…and I hear the determination in his voice as he tells me, “You won’t believe what these folks are going through, Michelle…it’s not right. We’ve got to keep working to fix this. We’ve got so much more to do.”
I see how those stories – our collection of struggles and hopes and dreams – I see how that’s what drives Barack Obama every single day.
And I didn’t think it was possible, but today, I love my husband even more than I did four years ago…even more than I did 23 years ago, when we first met.
I love that he’s never forgotten how he started.
I love that we can trust Barack to do what he says he’s going to do, even when it’s hard – especially when it’s hard.
I love that for Barack, there is no such thing as “us” and “them” – he doesn’t care whether you’re a Democrat, a Republican, or none of the above…he knows that we all love our country…and he’s always ready to listen to good ideas…he’s always looking for the very best in everyone he meets.
And I love that even in the toughest moments, when we’re all sweating it – when we’re worried that the bill won’t pass, and it seems like all is lost – Barack never lets himself get distracted by the chatter and the noise.
Just like his grandmother, he just keeps getting up and moving forward…with patience and wisdom, and courage and grace.
And he reminds me that we are playing a long game here…and that change is hard, and change is slow, and it never happens all at once.
But eventually we get there, we always do.”