First lady stresses the president's humanity
First lady Michelle Obama addresses the crowd gathered Tuesday at the opening evening of the Democratic National Convention at the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, N.C.
First lady Michelle Obama addresses the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- First lady Michelle Obama depicted a president who is also a husband and father as she stressed the human impact of the policy debates of his first term to make her case Tuesday night that he deserves a second.
On the first night of the Democratic National Convention, Mrs. Obama followed San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, the convention's keynote speaker, as the Texas Hispanic leader joined a parade of Democrats who mixed praise for the Obama record with a liberal dose of derision for the Republican team of Mitt Romney and Rep. Paul Ryan.
Mrs. Obama had an indistinct image with many voters as she took the convention stage four years ago in Denver. A sometimes controversial figure in the last campaign, over the last four years, she has attained broad popularity -- a 66 percent average in Gallup's favorability ratings, one that either of the presidential candidates would have reason to envy. While her husband struggled with economic and legislative challenges, she has identified herself with issues such as fitness, nutrition and the problems of military families.
The mother of one of those families, Elaine Brye, of Columbiana County, with four children in four branches of the armed forces, introduced her, saying that "If someone is there for my family ... I'll be there for them."
Mrs. Obama entered to the crowd's chants of "Four more years," and she responded, "With your help."
She reprised some of the family stories she told in Denver four years ago, of her working class upbringing on the South Side of Chicago, the daughter of a municipal worker with multiple sclerosis, and Mr. Obama's years in Hawaii raised by a single mother along with his grandfather and grandmother who "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."
She described how their shared biography informed his White House decisions.
"I have seen firsthand that being president doesn't change who you are -- it reveals who you are," she said. "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. ... and as president," she continued, "you can get all kinds of advice from all kinds of people.
"But at the end of the day, when it comes time to make that decision, as president, all you have to guide you are your values, and your vision, and the life experiences that make you who you are. So when it comes to rebuilding our economy, Barack is thinking about folks like my dad and like his grandmother."
While her husband has often been described as cool and detached, Mrs. Obama said those human concerns informed his policy decisions.
"That's why he cut taxes for working families and small businesses and fought to get the auto industry back on its feet," she said. "That's how he brought our economy from the brink of collapse to creating jobs again ... 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 -- that's not how he was raised -- he cared that it was the right thing to do."
A week ago, Ann Romney tried to project a similarly warm image of her husband, including a depiction of their years as a young married couple. Mrs. Obama offered a another vignette of a young, struggling couple.
"And believe it or not, when we were first married, our combined monthly student loan bills were actually higher than our mortgage," she said. "We were so young, so in love, and so in debt.
"That's why Barack has fought so hard to increase student aid and keep interest rates down, because he wants every young person to fulfill their promise and be able to attend college without a mountain of debt. So in the end, for Barack, these issues aren't political -- they're personal, because Barack knows what it means when a family struggles."
The speech stayed well clear of partisan jabs, but as the campaigns vie for middle class votes, it suggested tacit but unmistakable contrasts between the backgrounds of the first family and that of the wealthy businessman who is a son of a former Michigan governor.
"He's the same man who started his career by turning down high paying jobs and instead working in struggling neighborhoods where a steel plant had shut down," she said, "because for Barack, success isn't about how much money you make, it's about the difference you make in people's lives."
She also seemed to strive to rekindle in her audience in the hall and beyond, the commitment that marked so many supporters of the 2008 Obama campaign, an intensity that has been tougher to sustain in the face of the grinding months of an economic downturn.
"And if so many brave men and women could wear our country's uniform and sacrifice their lives for our most fundamental rights, then surely we can do our part as citizens of this great democracy to exercise those rights," she said. "Surely we can get to the polls and make our voices heard on election day."
The nurturing tone of Mrs. Obama's words contrasted with Mr. Castro's dissection of the GOP team nominated the week before. He described his family's own American dream story of how he and the twin brother who introduced him -- state Rep. Joaquin Castro, now a congressional candidate -- were raised by his grandmother and mother.
"My grandmother didn't live to see us begin our lives in public service," he said, "but she probably would've thought it extraordinary that just two generations after she arrived in San Antonio, one grandson would be the mayor and the other would be on his way -- the good people of San Antonio willing -- to the United States Congress."
Then he shifted to attack mode.
"We know that in our free market economy, some will prosper more than others," he said. "What we don't accept is the idea that some folks won't even get a chance. And the thing is, Mitt Romney and the Republican Party are pretty comfortable with that America. In fact, that's exactly what they're promising us.
"Mitt Romney, quite simply, doesn't get it. A few months ago he visited a university in Ohio and gave the students there a little entrepreneurial advice -- 'Start a business,' he said. But how? 'Borrow money if you have to from your parents,' he told them. Gee, why didn't I think of that?
"We all understand that freedom isn't free. What Romney and Ryan don't understand is that neither is opportunity. We have to invest in it.
"Republicans tell us that if the most prosperous among us do even better, that somehow the rest of us will too. Folks ... we've heard that before. First they called it 'trickle-down.' Then 'supply side.' Now it's 'Romney/Ryan.' Or is it 'Ryan/Romney'?"
Tying the GOP policies to the administration that presided over the onset of the world financial crisis, he said, "[T]heir theory has been tested. It failed. Our economy failed. The middle class paid the price. Your family paid the price. Mitt Romney just doesn't get it."
He spoke on a night filled with harsh characterizations of the Republican candidate and his policies. Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who was the subject of Democratic criticism earlier this year when he bemoaned attacks on Mr. Romney's business career, had no trouble blasting the Republican's tax policies.
"Being asked to pay your fair share isn't class warfare; it's patriotism," he said to the cheers of the Democratic partisans.
Former Ohio Gov, Ted Strickland gave a rousing tribute to Mr. Obama's decision to devote federal funds to an auto bailout. He couched it in the experiences of a series of auto workers on the job in a revived industry. Describing a state that's a central battleground in this election, he said, "The auto industry supports one of every eight jobs in Ohio and it's alive and growing in America again."
His praise for the incumbent was followed by a scathing attack on the Republican.
He denounced Mr. Romney's famous op-ed essay that was headlined, "Let Detroit Go bankrupt." "Mitt Romney has so little economic patriotism that even his money has a passport. It summers on the beaches of the Cayman Islands and winters on the slopes of the Swiss Alps."
And rebutting the Republican's charge that the administration had weakened the work requirement of the Clinton-era welfare legislation, he said, "He's lying, simple as that, [and] on his tax returns, he's hiding."
His was one of three addresses that sparked particular enthusiasm in the crowd. In addition to his attacks and Mr. Castro's enthusiastically received keynote, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick rocked the crowd with sharp criticism of Mr. Romney's record preceding him as governor of the Bay State.
The convention resumes tonight with former President Bill Clinton, who signed that welfare legislation, as the main speaker.
First Published September 5, 2012 12:00 am