Decoding Michelle Obama: What she said ... and what it meant -

Decoding Michelle Obama: What she said … and what it meant

Luiza Savage translates the First Lady’s speech


First Lady Michelle Obama greets attendees at the African American Caucus Meeting at the 2012 Democratic National Convention on Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2012, in Charlotte, N.C. (Charlie Neibergall/AP photo)

The standout speeches of the Republican and Democratic conventions so far have been the women’s:

  • Ann Romney delivered a powerful, personal, moving tribute to the character and heart of her husband — perhaps the thing he most needed from the convention;
  • Two mothers from Romney’s church — one whose 14-year old son died of cancer, and another whose baby was born prematurely — gave unforgettably wrenching remarks about Mitt Romney’s personal involvement their families as they endured their darkest hours;
  • Condoleezza Rice gave an inspiring speech — with shades of Obama 2008 — that dazzled the delegates;
  • New Mexico governor Susana Martinez put an down-to-earth Hispanic face on her party as she described her conversion from Democrat to Republican.

And last night Michelle Obama delivered the speech of her life.

It was part personal, patriotic, and philosophical. But it was also slyly political — containing an implied multi-layered critique of Mitt Romney:

A few highlights:

“You see, even back then, when Barack was a senator and a presidential candidate, to me, he was still the guy who picked me up for our dates in a car that was so rusted out, I could actually see the pavement going by in a hole in the passenger side door.”

Translation: Mitt Romney is rich.


“But, see, when Barack started telling me about his family -– see, now, that’s when I knew I had found a kindred spirit, someone whose values and upbringing were so much like mine.”

Translation: My husband may have a Kenyan father and spent part of his childhood in Indonesia, but he might as well have grown up next door to me in Chicago’s South Side.


“My father was a pump operator at the city water plant, and he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis when my brother and I were young.  And even as a kid, I knew there were plenty of days when he was in pain, and I knew there were plenty of mornings when it was a struggle for him to simply get out of bed. But every morning, I watched my father wake up with a smile, grab his walker, prop himself up against the bathroom sink, and slowly shave and button his uniform.”

Translation: My father wasn’t governor of Michigan.


“And when my brother and I finally made it to college, nearly all of our tuition came from student loans and grants.  But my dad still had to pay a tiny portion of that tuition himself.  And every semester, he was determined to pay that bill right on time, even taking out loans when he fell short.  He was so proud to be sending his kids to college, and he made sure we never missed a registration deadline because his check was late. You see, for my dad, that’s what it meant to be a man.”

Translation: Mitt Romney wants to cut federal subsidies to students. Also, we really need the youth vote again. And don’t believe the other side when they say government assistance destroys individual dignity.


“Barack was raised by a single mom who struggled to pay the bills, and by grandparents who stepped in when she needed help.  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.

Translation: Equal pay for equal work legislation is personal for Obama. Also, he understands women who work for a living. Also, we need to keep our big lead with female voters.


“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.”

Translation: Democrats don’t hate successful people.


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.

Translation: Shove it, Ayn Rand.


“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.”

Translation: Thank you for your support, public sector unions.


You see, I’ve gotten to see up close and personal what being President really looks like.  And I’ve seen how the issues that come across a President’s desk are always the hard ones — the problems where no amount of data or numbers will get you to the right answer; the judgment calls where the stakes are so high, and there is no margin for error.

Translation: The Vice President and the Secretary of Defense warned the raid on Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad was too risky.


“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 — no, that’s not how he was raised.”

Translation: He did what Bill Clinton couldn’t. Also, Romney got his health reform done in liberal Massachusetts.


“And believe it or not, when we were first married, our combined monthly student loan bill was actually higher than our mortgage.  Yeah, we were so young, so in love — and so in debt.  And that’s why Barack has fought so hard to increase student aid and keep interest rates down.”

Translation: We really, really need those young people to show up and vote like it’s 2008.


“So in the end, for Barack, these issues aren’t political — they’re personal.  Because Barack knows what it means when a family struggles.”

Translation: Romney is rich.


“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.”

Translation: Romney wants to cut taxes for the wealthy while axing government programs.


So when people ask me whether being in the White House has changed my husband, I can honestly say that when it comes to his character, and his convictions, and his heart, Barack Obama is still the same man I fell in love with all those years ago.

Translation: Mitt’s a flip-flopper.


“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 is always ready to listen to good ideas, he’s always looking for the very best in everyone he meets.”

Translation: Washington gridlock is the other side’s fault.


“And he reminds me that we are playing a long game here.”

Translation: Did you really think “change” would only take 4 years?