Jim Jenkins

A first lady’s powerful story

First Lady Michelle Obama: 'In this election, I'm with her'

In an emotional speech on the opening night of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Michelle Obama focused on the important role the next president will have on America's children and how Hillary Clinton is the one for the job.
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In an emotional speech on the opening night of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Michelle Obama focused on the important role the next president will have on America's children and how Hillary Clinton is the one for the job.

She has been the most charismatic first lady of our time. Michelle Obama possesses a presence that commands attention, a warmth, an ease with people, a sincere compassion. Even the Republicans who have made repeated mean-spirited (and that’s putting it mildly) comments in public and private about her husband, the president of the United States, do not speak ill of Mrs. Obama.

One can only imagine, after her speech-of-a-lifetime Monday at the Democratic National Convention, the brain trust of Donald Trump sitting with their candidate. Likely they scrambled to get all electronic devices out of the room to prevent the Blond Bombthrower from sending out a tweet, lest he offer one of his tasteless gems in a review of the first lady and thus implode his own campaign and send Mitch McConnell back to a storefront law office in Kentucky and condemn Paul Ryan to a lifetime of cold Wisconsin winters.

For this was a speech for history’s sake, one might say, a political talk to be sure with its unqualified endorsement of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, but excluding that part of it was history and heart and hope based entirely on the Obama family story. And that story, of course, certainly had a substantial launch toward its current orbit at another Democratic convention, the one in July of 2004 when a young U.S. Senate candidate named Obama made a keynote address that ultimately fueled his race for the White House four years later.

When they won the White House and appeared that November night in Chicago, the Obamas represented a stunning, unforgettable day in history, the first African-American elected to the presidency, a moment thought to, in some ways, define a nation’s progress. Alas, we have also learned there still is progress to be made.

But in the years since, the Obamas have been the First Family, representing all Americans. Their children have grown up under bright lights, but are successful and well-adjusted. The family has been what first families should be, an example for the country, but with children protected by loving parents.

This past Monday, however, Michelle Obama brought out the light a little, and told a story in a way that should be put in every American history text. Her context was the raising of her children in today’s America and in today’s politics:

“... the story of generations of people who felt the lash of bondage, the shame of servitude, the sting of segregation, but who kept on striving and hoping and doing what needed to be done so that today, I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves — and I watch my daughters — two beautiful, intelligent, black young women — playing with their dogs on the White House lawn.”

She continued, “So don’t let anyone ever tell you that this country isn’t great, that somehow we need to make it great again. Because this, right now, is the greatest country on earth.”

Subtract all the political personalities and philosophies involved in both the Republican convention and the Democratic engagement about to conclude, and Mrs. Obama will emerge as one, perhaps the one, who brought a hopeful and enlightening message to all people that will long outlive all the other rhetoric.

She was of course endorsing Hillary Clinton, but she nevertheless defined the presidency as well as it can be defined when she said, “I want a president who will teach our children that everyone in the country matters — a president who truly believes in the vision that our founders put forth all those years ago: That we are all created equal, each a beloved part of the great American story. And when crisis hits, we don’t turn against each other — no, we listen to each other. We lean on each other. Because we are always stronger together.”

After all the Obamas have endured in nearly eight years now in ridiculous assaults from right-wingers on radio and the disrespect for the president from the tea partyers in Congress and some of their followers, Mrs. Obama shows that faith in country — even from those whose ancestors endured persecution — need not waver, no matter what.

Amazing. Amazing grace.

Jim Jenkins: 919-829-4513 or at jjenkins@newsobserver.com

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