Watching Ann Romney’s and Michelle Obama’s convention speeches back to back, it’s impossible not to notice just how similar they are in some ways. Both women reminisced about first dates, talked about their roles as mothers, told stories about their own parents who deferred dreams so that their children could make it in America and finished, to a standing ovation, with “God bless you and God bless America.” But the similarities end there. While Romney’s came off as a heavy-handed open love letter to her husband, Obama’s speech was impassioned, intimate and — according to plenty of commentators — “politically masterful.”
Both Obama and Romney a good amount of their time telling us about their love for their husbands. Historically, that’s been the purpose of the candidate’s spouse’s speech — to humanize the candidates. For Romney, whose husband is overwhelmingly seen as cold and unrelatable, that was enough of a task to take on. While she stuck to anecdotes that revealed Mitt’s softer side, Obama imbued each of her stories with an underlying message. “When we were first married,” the first lady said, “our combined monthly student loan bills were actually higher than our mortgage. We were so young, so in love, and so in debt.” Not only does Barack remember what it’s like to be buried in bills, he’s invested in helping students today who are dealing with the same issues and is fighting to preserve student financial aid. In her speech, Obama stood behind her husband’s policies and made a connection between his character and his politics; “being president doesn’t change who you are — it reveals who you are.”
When it came time to talk about their parents, Romney spoke about being the granddaughter of a Welsh coal miner while Obama told the crowd about her father, a pump operator at a water plant who struggled with multiple sclerosis. As hard as she tried, Romney’s attempt to paint her and Mitt’s upbringings as middle class fell flat and was, frankly, disingenuous. Her own father was the mayor of her town while Mitt’s dad, a high school graduate, became governor of Michigan. In contrast, here are Obama’s tales of her early life:
[E]ven as a kid, I knew there were plenty of days when [my father] was in pain… I knew there were plenty of mornings when it was a struggle for him to simply get out of bed. But despite these challenges, my dad hardly ever missed a day of work… he and my mom were determined to give me and my brother the kind of education they could only dream of. And when my brother and I finally made it to college, nearly all of our tuition came from student loans and grants. But my dad still had to pay a tiny portion of that tuition himself. And every semester, he was determined to pay that bill right on time, even taking out loans when he fell short. He was so proud to be sending his kids to college… and he made sure we never missed a registration deadline because his check was late.
As the Washington Post points out, implicit in Obama’s story is the message that government programs are okay and that “people who receive government aid can be, and usually are, very responsible citizens.” With Republicans going to town with the whole “we built that” meme (Romney: “There, [my father] started a business — one he built himself, by the way.”), Obama acknowledged the importance of hard work without sacrificing her and her husband’s belief that we owe so much of our success to our families and our society. In one of the most powerful soundbites of the night, she laid it out like this:
“[H]e believes that when you’ve worked hard, and done well, and walked through that doorway of opportunity… you do not slam it shut behind you…you reach back, and you give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed.”
Speaking to women (and their fans), Obama didn’t disappoint. She drew attention to the fact that Barack “believes that women are more than capable of making our own choices about our bodies and our health care” and pointed out that “he signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to help women get equal pay for equal work.” And while her “mom-in-chief” comment was undoubtedly a nod to traditional gender roles, Obama’s speech showed that her dream for the country — and her husband’s plan for us — sees women as so much more than just mothers or wives. And the gay stuff! The gay stuff! Call it pandering if you must, the the fact that Michelle Obama recognizes our struggles as just as legitimate as those of depression-era families, tireless civil rights workers, and suffragists who were imprisoned for seeking the right to vote was enough to make me tear up just a little.
After bringing the crowd to their feet, Mrs. Obama left the way any rockstar should — to Beyoncé’s “Get Me Bodied”. With the rest of the convention happening over the next two days and the president’s speech scheduled for Thursday night, we’ve got plenty to look forward to.
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I loved Michelle Obama’s speech. It was so powerful and moving to listen to and she had great presence on the stage. It makes a difference when she can speak to struggle that she experienced rather than Ann Romney referring to family struggle from a couple generations ago.
And really, walking off the stage to Beyonce was brilliant.
Michelle Obama can do no wrong. I just think she is fantastic beyond words and her speech was, well, yeah, the speech to end all speeches. It was so good.
The DNC in general this year is amazing to me. I feel like it’s so inclusive! It gives me hope.
I worry about “Michelle Obama can do no wrong” as a premise for any evaluation.
If someone declared “Mitt Romney can do no wrong”, could you believe anything they said after that? You would know that they are completely biased to the point of excluding any possibility of criticism.
That’s ok. I’m not like, giving a professional political evaluation or anything. I’m not hoping to sway anybody here or anything. Me, personally, I think she’s fantastic and that’s kind of the end of the story.
I love me a great public speaker and Michelle Obama was absolutely stunning.
and THAT dress, girrrrrl.
her dress was even a political statement! it was made by tracy reese, one of very few african-american designers at new york fashion week.
good god i thought she couldn’t get anymore incredible. you just proved me wrong.
I just heard on the news Obama’s dress cost significantly less than Romney’s dress. Ann’s was 1,300 some and Michelle’s was around 500. And it looked better. Way to make good financial decisions, democrats.
Her speech was fantastic and moved me to tears and, yes, that dress was to die for.
Her speech was moving and she certainly is an impressive speaker. However, something about these speaches just buggs me: if there was a female candidate, would her husband be required to do the same?
I guess it just bothers me that even a powerful, intelligent and beautiful woman such as Michelle Obama is domesticated and reduced to her role as a wife in these speaches.
That being said, she wins over Ann Romney any time of the day.
hi! i think those are really valid concerns, and irin carmon, one of my favorite contributors at salon, wrote an amazing article that addresses them: http://www.salon.com/2012/09/05/michelle_obama_not_just_mom_in_chief/ i highly recommend it. that said, i still think it was a fucking amazing speech.
yes, this was in the back of my mind the whole time too. hopefully we’ll get to see what happens when there’s a woman candidate in the near future. one prediction: any husband speaking on behalf of his wife will not yell “I LOOOOVEEE YOUUUUU MENNNNNN!”
I think it would look something like this:
Ri, I am so glad you brought up that criticism!
I thought it was horrific not only how Michelle Obama was reduced to mom-in-chief, but how she glorified that space as a women’s place, and masculinity as providing for the family.
This article will affirm your criticism, while laying out a feminist critique not only of that speech, but the Democrats’ approach:
That article was very interesting, thanks for recommending it. I just find the role of women (wives?) in American elections/campaigns quite fascinating – and troublesome at the same time.
I think if you’re in a relationship based on love, admiration, and reverence then you will.
Case & Point: Bill Clinton for Hilary. When he campaigned for her, he CAMPAIGNED for her. Nothing disingenuous about it. Lol, and don’t be surprised if 2016 he’ll be at it again for Hillz.
(Please no one bring up past indiscretions. Women cheat sometimes too, my little KStew. It’s wrong on both sides.)
Michelle brought me to tears and I loved that she focused on hard working citizens who have benefited from public assistance. I myself have utilized a federal grant for college/grad school loans. Mitt’s advice to “borrow from parents” only works when your parents have money to give.
I think Republicans think they own “Build yourself up by your bootstraps and EARNING a living.” Um, Democrats believe that too. That’s not a conservative mantra, that’s an American one. Moderate Democrats simply believe that the government should mitigate for the truly disadvantaged. So that every American has a shot at becoming the next Steve Jobs or John Kennedy or Oprah Winfrey. Because not everyone is born into driveler, wealth of money, connection, and/or information. Not to mention, America’s history has not always been fair and equal to all. Sometimes institutionalized disenfranchisement was the norm.
At the end of the day I’m all about ability, earning your living, but helping those who have never been and will probably never be as privileged as you. And not so it’s even. That I give them all my money. Hell I worked hard for that, but at least so their struggle is bearable and they have the tools to rise above it, if they choose.
“Because not everyone is born into privilege*, wealth of money, connection, and/or information. “
I’m surprised so many of my female friends thought this speech was so amazing- wasn’t it annoying that they completely erased Harvard Law, the firm job, the six figure salary, and all of her other personal achievements that weren’t related to taking care of her husband and kids? We’re really going to be excited about reducing her to one part of her multi-dimensional existence?
I don’t think that they were erasing that stuff, it just wasn’t on topic. The point of her speech was to talk about her husband.
But the speech was about her husband, about why he is the one to vote for. It wasn’t meant to be all about her achievements, as great as they are. They aren’t being invalidated, they just weren’t pertinent.
Yes, Kristen! I felt the same way!
If the speech was about her husband, why did she devote so much time to talking about her father, and Barack’s grandmother? They are even less relevant, but they do support a certain heteronormative view of what family should be.
One might think the speech was intended to coach us on what a North American family should look like, and not to discuss a presidential election. I thought it was nauseating, sentimental, and could have come from a Republican candidate(‘s wife).
I Love her!! She is so amazing.
I too get irked at how wifey this speech seems, but knowledge of how their relationship really works which if we were to try to graph it would clearly show her as the super intelligent, hard hitting, yet tactfully attune to public reception superwoman within the partnership – well that clears up my worries. This speech isn’t about her, it’s about him. I would hope that in the case of a female candidate we would hear a story equally as compelling from a man in love with his partner, in marriage and in mind.
She is so gorgeous!
That picture of the girls and Obama on the couch kills me. So adorable.
Their girls looks SO grown-up! What mature young ladies!
This: “…when you’ve worked hard, and done well, and walked through that doorway of opportunity… you do not slam it shut behind you…you reach back, and you give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed.”
I don’t know how many times I’ve had to say exactly that to people when we’ve had political discussions. If you become successful, congratulations. No one is trying to take that away from you. However. You do not exist in a vacuum. You are part of a society that has given you tools that you have used to craft that success. There are people in this society that have contributed to your success, whether you realize it or not. You didn’t do it alone. You did it against a backdrop of a society that is designed (these days, though, this is debatable) to allow upward mobility. So keep those doors open for others to use them and succeed just as you have.
That’s why I liked how Julian Castro referred to the American dream as a relay and not a sprint or a marathon, it emphasizes how we don’t live in a vacuum and we should work together so that other people can also have the same opportunities
YES! i think i’m in love with you, lol. ;-) this is why i can’t get down with “fiscal” conservatism either. it’s about slamming the door shut after you’ve reached your potential (or have been there all along, like much of the 1%), pretending you didn’t have help or a leg up along the way, and trying to make believe other people should make it all on their “merits” as well. it’s absurd.
Those arms, I want those arms! Totally did push ups after her speech! It was so amazing for the first time in a while I’m feeling excited about voting for Obama as opposed to feeling mad at Romney and voting against him.
Michelle Obama + Elizabeth Warren, 2016.
Loved the hints of “pandering” to the lgbt community. Loved her sincerity. And oh, those arms.
the first thing that struck me when listening to Ann and Romney was just how easy the Obama’s made public appearances look, the Obamas’ abilities to address such large groups of people and seem genuine is amazing. When Ann said that “minorities need to put their biases aside.” I was completely turned off by that comment and stopped listening, the Romneys and the republicans always leave me with a bad taste in my mouth. This speech was incredible because it reminded me of how much of a formidable woman Michele is in her own right. Considering how much the right vilified her in the beginning, reduced her to the stereotypical angry black woman who shouldnt be allowed near a microphone her speech last night was simply delicious.
It was some speech. She was amazing
I found this about Michelle on tumblr:
Cute repurposing of a bit from the Dead Irish Writers episode of The West Wing!
Abbey and I were walking along and we see a ditch digger, and I said, “Aren’t you glad
you married me? You could’ve married a ditch digger.” And she said, “Jed, if I’d married
him, he’d be President.”
of COURSE she walked off to Get Me Bodied. I bet that’s the key track for her gym playlist to get those killer arms.
michelle obama: she’s a bad bitch, lol. her speech made me tear up as well and i see a brighter future with president obama helming the white house then with “out of touch” romney. if he wins again, the voting populace also needs to make sure he has some support by making sure all the obstructionist, greedy, racist, misogynistic, homophobic, anti-intellectual, bible- thumping repugs don’t get another opportunity to continue to wreck his sensible, equitable, and fair policies for america. we need to get off our butts and vote those fools out of office!
Too bad we can’t vote for her, maybe she would do a better job than her husband.
The Obamas are amazing. I love this. Love this. She is the epitome of a wife and mother and makes the label of being a wife and mother something to be so proud of! She is awe inspiring.