First Lady Michelle Obama’s Magnum Opus
The first lady stole the show with an incredible speech in Charlotte. By Patricia J. Williams.
My television tuned to PBS on one side and my computer streaming live from Charlotte, N.C., on the other, I settled in for the launch of the Democratic National Convention. If the tinny speakers didn’t reproduce the ecstatic high of being there, it provided an interesting insight into the power of media filters.
The live-streamed convention had its own share of poking-at-you attention-grabbers, in particular the relentlessly flashed tweets from random Americans, like “Can’t wait to hear FLOTUS bring down the house!”—stuff that gave Republicans a run for the money in terms of sounding all tingly and wholesome.
Alas, I am not a tweet-y personality: yes, ideally, I’d have liked to text-message the nation as well, to tell everyone that I too was aglow at the prospect of “FLOTUS” on stage, but my brain still refers to her with the full, long-winded, rolled-out thrill of “the first lady of the United States of America, Michelle Obama.”
And my feelings were complicated as I waited for Michelle Obama to speak. I wondered whether her daughters were doing their homework on the topic of this convention, and why Mitt Romney shouldn’t have been instantly disqualified from the race for touting unrestrained oil and coal exploitation while smirking—actually smirking!—at the president’s efforts to “slow the rise of the oceans” even as Hurricane Isaac shivered the timbers of the Republican arena in Tampa. And why we have to have these dog-and-pony shows called conventions anyway, that go on for days, when all I really want to hear is the candidates debating each other for hours at a time like the Lincoln-Douglas debates, arguing till they drop from intellectual exertion, without commercials, without interruption, in complete sentences, in full paragraphs, with footnotes rather than tweets rolling across the bottom of the screen so we can fact-check everything they say instantly.
But that’s longer than 140 characters. It wouldn’t fit.
When the first lady did speak, she was great. She looked young, sweet as a flower, in a bright silky frock, the skirt swirling with a garden of what seemed to be petunias. She spoke quickly and well, intelligently and powerfully. She talked of her father who died young from complications of multiple sclerosis, propping up his walker while he prepared to go to work, always with a smile. And of his pride in his children going to college, partly on scholarship, partly with his financial help—because although he himself never went to college, he was among a generation of the working class who earned a decent enough living to support a family and to fulfill the American vision of what it means to be a man.
One can see what a precocious child Michele Obama must have been. One can understand how proud her hardworking father must have been. One is glad she had that chance.
On television, the team of correspondents agreed she “knocked it out of the park.” On my computer, there was a contented little stream of smiley faces, made from colons and parentheses.