Mom-in-Chief Michelle Obama Highlights Humble Beginnings
First lady Michelle Obama took to the stage to showcase President Barack Obama’s personal side Tuesday night, capping a day of sharp political attacks with a gentler and more positive message.
Her prime-time speech, much of it dedicated to references to being a mother, also punctuated a day characterized by an appeal to women, a key voting bloc in November’s presidential election.
Steering clear of any political attacks, and indeed not even mentioning her husband’s Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, the first lady painted the president as an everyman who can empathize with the average American.
She told stories of the first family’s humble marriage before politics and their even more humble upbringings, raised by parents who worked hard to put their children through college.
“We were so young, so in love and so in debt,” she said. “Barack knows the American Dream because he’s lived it, and he wants everyone in this country to have that same opportunity, no matter who we are, or where we’re from, or what we look like, or who we love.”
When Barack Obama first decided to run for office, she said she was apprehensive because she didn’t want the office to change him. On the contrary, she continued, the office has amplified the qualities that were already there.
“I have seen firsthand that being president doesn’t change who you are, it reveals who you are,” she said. “I can honestly say that when it comes to his character, and his convictions, and his heart, Barack Obama is still the same man I fell in love with all those years ago.”
But there was no love for Romney during the rest of the opening night of the three-day convention, as many speakers ripped into the former Massachusetts governor.
Despite Michelle Obama’s nonpartisan tone, most speakers before her happily lobbed bombs at Romney. Often the shots were tied to his personal finances.
Among the most cutting criticism was the repeated accusation from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) that Romney is skipping out on his taxes.
“Never in modern American history has a presidential candidate tried so hard to hide himself from the people he hopes to serve,” the Nevada Democrat said. “When you look at the one tax return he has released, it’s obvious why.”
“Mitt Romney has so little economic patriotism that even his money needs a passport,” former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland said. “It summers on the beaches of the Cayman Islands and winters on the slopes of the Swiss Alps.”
Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley piled on, slamming Romney for having “Swiss bank accounts.”
“Mr. Romney, just because you bank against the United States of America doesn’t mean the rest of us are ready to sell her out,” O’Malley said.
San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro also sought to paint Romney as out of touch, a rich man who does not understand the struggles of average Americans – in fact, the polar opposite of the man Michelle Obama would go on to represent in her husband.
Castro also held up the budget blueprint proposed by GOP vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.) as the boogey man for the left.
“The Romney/Ryan budget doesn’t just cut public education, cut Medicare, cut transportation and cut job training,” he said. “It doesn’t just pummel the middle class – it dismantles it. It dismantles what generations before have built to ensure that everybody can enter and stay in the middle class.”
But it was someone who did not hold office who got one of the biggest reactions of the night.
“Women still earn just 77 cents for every dollar men make,” Lilly Ledbetter, the namesake of the Fair Pay Act, said in her speech.
And then the audience roared with her follow-up.
“Maybe 23 cents doesn’t sound like a lot to someone with a Swiss bank account, Cayman Island investments and an IRA worth tens of millions of dollars,” she added.
Ledbetter was one of several speakers highlighting women’s issues, and an entire segment of the program was dedicated to abortion, with Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America speaking.
A panel of House Democratic women led by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) also took the stage to speak about how Medicare and veterans issues affect women.
“I’m Nancy Pelosi, but my grandchildren call me Mimi,” she said. “For me, politics is an extension of my role as a mother and a grandmother. For the Democratic women of the House, our work is not about the next election but rather the next generation.”