CHARLOTTE, N.C.—First lady Michelle Obama gave an emotional and effective speech Tuesday night to an exuberant convention crowd. Here are a half dozen things she did well in her speech.
Introductory video. The biographical sketch, which drew a huge roar when it started, effectively conveyed three messages about Mrs. Obama—that she comes from working class roots and that her main issues in the White House are military families and getting American kids healthy with exercise and "Barack-oli.” The clips of her appearing on Jimmy Fallon, Ellen DeGeneres, and David Letterman's shows lent a nice touch of comedic accessibility.
Family talk. Again, an effective reminder of her family's and her husband's working class roots. The message is that the Obamas haven't forgotten where they've come from (while that other plutocratic fellow doesn't even understand it at all). And she nicely weaved their story into the convention's broader themes of the importance not only of hard work but also opportunity.
Speaking American. "These issues aren't political—they're personal,” Mrs. Obama said. "Barack knows the American dream because he's lived it.” A not terribly subtle undertone of the GOP attacks against President Obama is that he is at minimum un-American if not literally not American. The American dream line is a great rebuke to that insidious line of attack.
Work-ing it. The GOP's duplicitous welfare attack is a racial dog whistle, and it's aimed at playing on working class fears that someone else is getting a free ride or a hand-out or a trip to the front of the line. By my count she mentioned "work” and its variants 14 times in her speech, driving home the message that she and the president understand the value and importance of working hard. "You don't take shortcuts or play by our own set of rules, and success doesn't count unless you earn it fair and square,” she said in a remark that works as both a counter to the Democrats-soft-on-welfare narrative as well as a shot across the bow of Romney and his unreleased tax returns—who knows what cut corners or special rules, as Democrats have argued, are being hidden there.
Subtle digs. Mrs. Obama never mentioned the name Mitt Romney, but she had a few words that looked like pointed jabs at the Republican presidential nominee along the lines of the cut corners above. "For Barack, success isn't about how much money you make; it's about the difference you make in people's lives,” she said, setting up a favorable contrast between the president's life path (he passed up better-paying jobs to help people) with Romney's.
Blue nail polish. This is a wholly superficial observation, but I liked the first lady's panache at picking a striking (and appropriate on a purely partisan level) color for her finger tips.
For all the talk of an enthusiasm gap, Democrats were in a party mood tonight, with a series of speakers like Newark Mayor Cory Booker, former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, and San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro riling up a crowd that seemed to be ready to be fired up. Castro drew a chant of "four more years!” and led the crowd in a call and answer focused on Romney's saying "no”—humorously drawing out the crowd's reaction when he got to healthcare. Romney once said yes to expanded healthcare, Castro noted, before saying no.
One of the first things I noticed when I walked into the convention hall Monday was what a relatively small space it is. Only a handful of delegations are on the floor itself, with the rest spreading up into the bowl. But the small space translates to good acoustics for the roar of the crowd.