Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Michelle's personal story a political triumph

By Cynthia Tucker, Special to CNN
updated 6:52 PM EDT, Wed September 5, 2012
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
updated 3:41 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Stuart Gitlow says pot is addictive and those who smoke it can experience long-term psychiatric disease.
updated 12:45 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Gabby Giffords and Katie Ray-Jones say "Between 2001 and 2012, more women were shot to death by an intimate partner in our country than the total number of American troops killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined."
updated 7:57 PM EDT, Tue July 29, 2014
Alan Elsner says Secretary Kerry's early cease-fire draft was leaked and presented as a final document, which served the interests of hard-liners on both sides who don't want the Gaza war to stop.
updated 7:58 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Vijay Das says Medicare is a success story that could provide health care for everybody, not just seniors
updated 2:18 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Rick Francona says Israel seems determined to render Hamas militarily ineffective.
updated 1:43 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
S.E. Cupp says the entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner thinks for himself and refuses to be confined to an ideological box.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
A Christian group's anger over the trailer for "Black Jesus," an upcoming TV show, seems out of place, Jay Parini says
updated 4:28 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
updated 3:39 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Carol Dweck and Rachel Simmons: Girls tend to have a "fixed mindset" but they should have a "growth mindset."
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
A crisis like the Gaza conflict or the surge of immigrants can be an opportunity for a lame duck president, writes Julian Zelizer
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Carol Costello says the league's light punishment sent the message that it didn't consider domestic violence a serious offense
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Danny Cevallos says saggy pants aren't the kind of fashion statement protected by the First Amendment.
updated 2:52 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Margaret Hoover says some GOP legislators support a state's right to allow same-sex marriage and the right of churches, synagogues and mosques not to perform the sacrament
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Priya Satia says today's drones for bombardment and surveillance have their roots in the deadly history of Western aerial control of the Middle East that began in World War One
updated 12:35 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sun July 27, 2014
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
updated 6:25 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
updated 11:10 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
updated 11:33 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
updated 8:45 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
updated 2:50 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
updated 9:49 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
updated 6:05 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
updated 7:42 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 2:53 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 12:37 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
updated 8:09 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT