Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Michelle's personal story a political triumph

By Cynthia Tucker, Special to CNN
September 5, 2012 -- Updated 2252 GMT (0652 HKT)
First Lady Michelle Obama was the last to speak on Tuesday, the first night of the Democratic National Convention.
First Lady Michelle Obama was the last to speak on Tuesday, the first night of the Democratic National Convention.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Cynthia Tucker: It would be tough for critics to paint Michelle Obama as angry, aggrieved
  • She says Obama's DNC speech was not unkind, yet eviscerated Mitt Romney candidacy
  • Tucker: Obama saluted military, told of humble roots, shared concerns with other Americans
  • She made case for her husband, drew contrasts with Romney without venom, Tucker says

Editor's note: Cynthia Tucker, a Pulitzer Prize-winning syndicated columnist, is a visiting professor at the University of Georgia.

(CNN) -- After Michelle Obama's speech Tuesday night, it will be very difficult for her critics to portray her as angry or aggrieved. She rarely raised her voice. She smiled, she charmed, she seemed to tear up. She said not an unkind thing about her political opponents. Indeed, she never mentioned them.

Yet she eviscerated Mitt Romney and everything he represents by stunning contrast, by recounting her modest upbringing and reminding her audience that President Obama shared her unassuming roots. It was a bravura political performance cloaked in an apolitical narrative.

After Tuesday night, it will be very difficult for the Rush Limbaugh League to accuse the first lady of being unpatriotic, of failing to sufficiently love America. From her introduction by one of the nation's military supermoms -- Elaine Brye, mother of four military officers -- Obama spoke of schoolteachers, of firefighters, of wounded warriors and their sacrifices. Given Romney's failure in his convention speech to even acknowledge men and women in uniform, Obama's salute to them was another striking contrast, served up without venom or bile.

Cynthia Tucker
Cynthia Tucker

From their first presidential campaign, Michelle Obama's role has been at least as difficult to navigate as her husband's. As the first black woman to represent the country in a job with few defined duties but generations of cherished symbolism, she has had to endure relentless vicious attacks. She has been caricatured, as she has noted, as an "angry black woman."

She has been cast as hostile to whites. And her campaign against childhood obesity has earned cruel denunciations from the right, including a remark from an overweight GOP lawmaker that she has a "large posterior."

She has had to suffer through that privately, never shedding her calm exterior in public. She has had to shield her children from scrutiny and attempt to ensure they enjoy something close to normality. And she has had to carve out an official portfolio of suitable causes. But she has done all that with aplomb, racking up an enviable approval rating.

If she was once a reluctant political wife, she seemed Tuesday night to have found a way to enjoy her role. She was relaxed and confident. She was warm and approachable. (She was also lovely. That shouldn't matter, but it does. Just ask any woman in the national political spotlight.)

Opinion: Will Michelle Obama's speech change history?

Watch Michelle Obama's full speech
Who made the better pitch to women?
Carville: 'One heck of a night' at DNC

She wove a narrative thread around her insecurities about how the pressures of life in the White House might change her husband and her family. And she delivered a resounding assurance that the president remains not only loving and compassionate but also grounded in honesty and integrity. He can make the tough calls.

"Well, today, after so many struggles and triumphs and moments that have tested my husband in ways I never could have imagined, I have seen firsthand that being president doesn't change who you are -- it reveals who you are."

In a speech full of great lines, that was my favorite. If Romney is a congenital flip-flopper whose views shift with the political winds, Obama's character has already been revealed, she noted without rancor or even explicit comparison.

"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," she said.

Rarely have I heard a political speech that so deftly hit all the right notes and so stirringly found all the right chords.

Opinion: Michelle Obama has redefined black women

She deftly deflected Republican accusations of class envy:

"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."

But she also noted that Democrats don't believe in Ayn Rand's hyperindividualism.

"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."

This was red meat served up in a bed of lovely salad greens from Obama's garden. Who could argue that wasn't a fitting entree from a First Lady?

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Cynthia Tucker.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1842 GMT (0242 HKT)
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1450 GMT (2250 HKT)
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1410 GMT (2210 HKT)
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1200 GMT (2000 HKT)
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2203 GMT (0603 HKT)
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 2152 GMT (0552 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette notes that this fall, minority students will outnumber white students at America's public schools.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2121 GMT (0521 HKT)
Humans have driven to extinction four marine mammal species in modern times. As you read this, we are on the brink of losing the fifth, write three experts.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 1158 GMT (1958 HKT)
It's been ten days since Michael Brown was killed, and his family is still waiting for information from investigators about what happened to their young man, writes Mel Robbins
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 1242 GMT (2042 HKT)
The former U.K. prime minister and current U.N. envoy says there are 500 days left to fulfill the Millennium Goals' promise to children.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1738 GMT (0138 HKT)
Peter Bergen says the terror group is a huge threat in Iraq but only a potential one in the U.S.
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Pepper Schwartz asks why young women are so entranced with Kardashian, who's putting together a 352-page book of selfies
ADVERTISEMENT