Wow. Michelle Obama passed her audition for the Western world’s most retrograde job magna cum laude last night. With perfect pitch, she hit the only note that mattered: that she’s an eloquent, emotive domestic team player—a wife, mother, daughter and sister familiar with sacrifice, working-class integrity and the kind of family values America demands of its First Lady. Even in 2008, the U.S. First Family exists in a fantasy nuclear time warp—he’s the ultimate alpha male, she the beta female helpmeet who doesn’t hold a job outside the home, bears his name, focuses on children (either existing or through worthy causes) and White House decoration.
OK, maybe there were moments that the impassioned-to-the-point-of tears speech seemed over-the-top. But the girl did what needed to be done. Gone was any tinge of the wry sarcasm evident in her first public outings—no affectionate jibes about her hubby’s funky morning breath, no fist-bumping which had her compared to a Black Panther with a ‘fro in The New Yorker, a magazine which once understood the meaning of “satire.” Her campaign remark that she was “proud of her country for the first time” that caused such a flap was replaced by a heartfelt “I love this country.” She dressed the part: her aqua dress was stylish but not distracting; she skipped her trademark outsized pearls (too obvious). And, smartly, she played down her Harvard Law School degree, instead focusing on family and country—heaping appreciation on her brother, her stay-at-home mother (watching proudly from the audience), her blue-collar father afflicted with multiple sclerosis (“our rock, our provider, our hero”). She was brilliant, Jackie Kennedy with street cred.
Most, though, she was “a wife who loves my husband and believes he will be an extraordinary president.” She was the loving mother who tucks her girls into bed and worries about their futures. She referred to “Barack” 17 times, noting his “funny name” to make the point that behind it he’s a regular guy with a background much like hers (read: he’s not a Muslim terrorist). She bragged about his CV—professional and personal, talking about their shared commitment to public service and telling a sweet story about his nervousness driving her and their eldest daughter home from the hospital, careful to mention she was seated safely in the back seat.
As his devoted proxy, she revived the message of “hope” (a word she used eight times) that first animated his campaign. The America she evoked was straight out of a Bruce Springsteen song—a place of union halls, churches, night shifts, and families praying around the dinner table. Most masterful were her stealthier references to America’s ongoing fight for equality—women winning the right to vote and the granting of civil rights. She even managed a shout-out to Hillary “who put those 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling” (but didn’t break it). With all of that steely warmth, Michelle O has set herself up as formidable opponent to the icy heiress Cindy McCain, a woman known for philanthropy whose voice is rarely heard. And by the time she walked off stage to the strains of Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely” Michelle Obama had proven herself every bit her husband’s equal—and his perfect unofficial running mate.