After a day of boos, protests, and raucousness on day one of the Democratic National Convention, Michelle Obama gave arguably the best, most resonant speech of the day. She really seemed to calm the crowd down, bringing a little unity to the fraught convention floor.
She also did something else that was important for Democratic unity. She reminded everyone what a big, historic deal Hillary Clinton’s campaign is — and she did it in a way that felt authentic and relatable.
“Because of Hillary Clinton, my daughters and all our sons and daughters now take for granted that a woman can be president of the United States,” Obama said.
That was the money quote, but Michelle earned the payoff. She wove a story that was both personal and historical. She talked about how the presidency has shaped the Obamas’ own daughters, and how Malia and Sasha have grown from “bubbly little girls into poised young women” during their father’s two terms in office.
She talked about how both parents and presidents bear a huge responsibility as role models to children, and why she trusts Clinton to take on that responsibility for the nation’s children. “Hillary Clinton has never quit on anything in her life,” Obama said. “And when I think about the kind of president that I want for my girls and all our children, that is what I want. I want someone with the proven strength to persevere.”
And in the most powerful part of her speech, Obama drew a direct line from the historic nature of her husband’s presidency to what would be the historic nature of Clinton’s:
Leaders like Hillary Clinton, who have the guts and the grace to keep coming back and putting those cracks in the highest and hardest glass ceiling until she finally breaks through, lifting all of us along with her.
That is the story of this country. The story that has brought me to the stage tonight. The story of generations of people who felt the lash of bondage, the shame of servitude, the sting of segregation, but who kept on striving, and hoping, and doing what needed to be done. So that today, I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves. And I watch my daughters — two beautiful, intelligent black young women — playing with their dogs on the White House lawn.
And because of Hillary Clinton, my daughters and all our sons and daughters now take for granted that a woman can be president of the United States.
It’s easy for politicians to wax poetic about our nation’s children, or our responsibility to the next generation, or how to live up to our country’s great history. But Obama’s speech managed to do all of that without feeling like a cliché.
That wasn’t just because Michelle Obama is an incredible orator who radiates emotional depth and sincerity. The speech’s historical weight felt earned — because it was. The Obamas have endured a lot as America’s first black first family, and Michelle’s speech also touched on how they dealt with the birther conspiracies and all the other forms of racism lobbed their way over eight years: “When they go low, we go high” was their personal motto, she said.
Clinton has also taken the high road in her life, Michelle argued, by persevering when sexism could have easily brought her low: “There were moments when Hillary could have decided that this work was too hard, that the price of public service was too high, that she was tired of being [torn] apart for how she looked, or how she talked, or even how she laughed. But here’s the thing: What I admire most about Hillary is that she never buckles under pressure.”
“Making history” has been a very personal experience for Michelle Obama, and her speech reflected that. It made history personal for her listeners, too, and made them think about what it would really mean — to their own lives, to their kids’ lives — to have a woman president.