Last night at the Democrat National Convention, we saw a major effort to rehabilitate the image of Michelle Obama. In many ways, they probably did about as good a job as they could possibly have hoped to. That said, I can’t imagine that it has changed many minds about her, nor will it have that great an impact on the decisions that have already been made (or will be made) about the preparedness or qualifications of her husband to be president. Still, there were several things that struck me as I watched Michelle deliver her address, and in the video that preceded it.
First, Michelle was re-cast as a loving daughter, sister, wife and mother. This is not to suggest that these are new roles for her, but rather this more gentle side is what was emphasized. And in so doing, the party was trying to soften the hard image that has plagued her since her husband burst onto the national scene. It has been a process that started some time ago, when it was announced that she was undergoing a makeover and was going to be repackaged. Perhaps it really started when she appeared in a feminine sundress on The View, instead of the more hard-edged professional attire she has been known to wear on other occasions. Gone for the most part were specific references to her Ivy League education and the only real mention of a profession came by way of the means by which she met her husband.
Secondly, what struck me was the conclusiveness with which Michelle attributed her character and groundedness, to the nature of her upbringing. I suspect that the intention of the DNC was to try to paint Michelle as “one of the rest of us”, with a normal (whatever that means) childhood and family experience built on the American Dream of hard work, education, and resulting success. However, the irony of this projection is this. Michelle (and her mother in the video) describe a family experience that is so troublingly absent in our culture, and ESPECIALLY in the African American community. Her family experience was described as having a known, present, and breadwinning father, a stay at home mother, a cohesive and supportive sibling relationship, with a family emphasis and insistence on education. To too great a degree, these terms cannot be used to describe the black family in America today. To what extent are the welfare state programs that the democrats are so in favor of, serving to reverse this dangerous trend? Or could it be argued that these programs actually facilitate the deterioration of family?
Noticeable absent was any mention of the part that faith has played in her early years, or how it shapes her today. Frankly, even though its absence was noticeable, the fact that it was excluded is not the least bit surprising to me. This aspect of both Michelle and Barry’s history is beyond any short term remediation in terms of image making. Clearly neither are beyond the grace of God, but this is a subject that they needed to avoid bringing back up. Because, the absolute best explanation for why the two of them maintained a 20 some-odd year relationship with the Reverend Jeremiah Wright is that they were too ignorant to perceive the nature of his theology with its race-infused hatred for America. Given the educational credentials and advanced professional degrees that both possess, attributing this to ignorance seems implausible, so the alternative is equally difficult to explain away. And that alternative explanation is that for 20 plus years, the Obamas held at least smoldering sympathies for Wright’s message.
Finally, Michelle has been outspoken in the past, and while she and her handlers and supporters have tried to cast some of her more famous gaffes as having been taken out of context, their efforts have largely failed. It was apparent from the content of her script that there was an objective of producing at least a single sound bite to counteract those earlier haunting comments and quotes. In fact it was so obvious as to almost seem disingenuous. But she announced last night that she loves her country. So now, in words that have poured forth from her own mouth over the course of the campaign and last night, we are to conclude that Michelle loves this downright mean country, that she is just now, for the first time in her adult life, become proud of! What a strange affection she has for our country.
It will be interesting in the next few days to see the other ways in which Michelle continues her metamorphosis. Some may be obvious, some more subtle. Among those changes, I am guessing that on Thursday night, gone will be the fist-bump between Michelle and Barry, along with Barry’s pat on her booty. But we’ll just have to wait and see.