Michelle Obama: Liberal family values without apology or rancor

I’m not a huge fan of the whole First Lady convention speech thing. I’ll make an exception for Michelle Obama’s beautifully crafted and delivered speech last night.

I’m not a huge fan of the whole First Lady convention speech thing. I wish we would let politicians be politicians, and that we would let political spouses be whatever it is that they wish to be, instead of dragging them up to various podiums to be surrogates or props. I’ll make an exception for Michelle Obama’s beautifully crafted and delivered speech last night.

Image courtesy of Dr. Donald Nguyen

In part–but only in part–it was effective for the same reasons that Mrs. Romney’s speech was effective in Tampa. Both women checked off the usual boxes. Michelle Obama humanized her husband. Like Mrs. Romney, Mrs. Obama reminded people of her husband’s appealing relationship with his family. Michelle Obama also landed some artful and well-deserved jabs at Mitt Romney, too.

Michelle Obama’s speech went further, though. She accomplished something else of more permanent value. Without apology or rancor, she presented a vision of liberal family values rooted in her own biography that should resonate with millions of people. It certainly resonated with me. Her defense of community, inclusion, social mobility, and the dignity of work was the perfect counterpoint to the self-regarding “you built it!” mentality expressed at the Republican convention…..

From the dais at the Republican National Convention, Paul Ryan thundered against health reform as an entitlement that we hadn’t even asked for. As I noted a few days ago at healthinsurance.org, the “we” to which he referred left out some of his listeners:

 The delegates may not have noticed, but this speech left out dozens of people at the back of the convention hall. These men and women spent day and night being ignored in empty speeches as they emptied trash cans, recycled campaign litter, and cleaned up whatever chewing gum, half-eaten hot dogs, and spilled soda that feted GOP delegates mindlessly left behind.

According to the Huffington Post, these janitors make about $7.67 per hour, minus a weekly uniform fee. Their lives and perspectives went largely un-discussed. This is also a group of people who often go uninsured. After 2014, their low incomes will qualify them for Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Unfortunately, Florida Governor Rick Scott pledges to turn down billions of federal dollars made available to expand Medicaid under health reform.

Image courtesy of Dr. Donald Nguyen

Speaking from a similar podium, Michelle Obama expressed a simple but compelling argument for progressive policies:

When you’ve worked hard, and done well, and walked through that doorway of opportunity, you do not slam it shut behind you. No–you reach back, and you give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed.

Growing up on Chicago’s south side, barely a bicycle ride from my own office, she knows something about blue-collar people like her own father, who buttoned up a uniform every day, didn’t get paid a whole lot of money, but who did an important job. As she put things:

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 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…

 Me, too.

P.S. I owe a special thanks to Dr. Donald Nguyen, who shared some of his beautiful photos.

Author: Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. He has served on three expert committees of the National Academies of Science. His recent research appears in such journals as Addiction, Journal of the American Medical Association, and American Journal of Public Health. He writes regularly on HIV prevention, crime and drug policy, health reform, and disability policy for American Prospect, tnr.com, and other news outlets. His essay, "Lessons from an Emergency Room Nightmare" was selected for the collection The Best American Medical Writing, 2009. He recently participated, with zero critical acclaim, in the University of Chicago's annual Latke-Hamentaschen debate.

3 thoughts on “Michelle Obama: Liberal family values without apology or rancor”

  1. The fight has been fought, let¹s eat!
    Even the blackest times must come to an end.
    Whatever was left after the fight should grasp its knife and
    The stronger man was he who survived
    And the devil take the hindmost.

    Get up, deadbeat!
    The strong man is he who left no one behind.
    Go out yet again, limp, crawl, lay about you
    And bring in the hindmost!

    – Berthold Brecht

  2. such bull Romney hates gays he won’t give rights to same sex marriages becasue he’s a religous punk with no idea how this elction is so over his headand Romney should just quit now he’s only at 169 obamas at 339 and obama has less states

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