Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Michelle O nailed it

Watching Michelle Obama's speech Monday night was like watching gymnast Nastia Liukin dazzle the Beijing crowds with a flawless tumbling routine.

Obama's task was to dispel the Republicans' attempts to portray her and her husband, Barack, as "elites," to make clear she loves her country and – probably most difficult – to walk the cliff edge that Americans require of any potential First Lady.

First Lady candidates are supposed to be warm, charming and socially flawless – without seeming the least bit studied or overly concerned about manners and appearances. Without looking as if they care too much about wardrobes, hairstyles or their looks they're supposed to be attractive and fashionable and have perfect eyebrows.

They're supposed to be smart and accomplished – without raising any suspicions that they might actually try to have anything to do with their husband's public policies. They're supposed to favor women's rights, and careers are fine as long as they make clear they think of themselves as wives and mothers foremost and, perhaps most important, know how to bake cookies.

Michelle Obama pulled it off. She talked movingly, yet with flawless poise and delivery, of growing up on Chicago's South Side in a blue-collar family with a father who suffered from multiple sclerosis and a mother whom she called a "rock." She talked about her husband's similarly middle- and working-class background, and of his love for his daughters. And she talked about her love of her country.

Some McCain supporters have tried to portray her as a Marxist liberal activist and as an "angry black woman" along the lines of '60s leftist activist Angela Davis, although she's a hospital executive and a corporate lawyer. Monday night she needed to dispel critics who pounded her in February for a supposed lack of patriotism after she said: "People in this country are ready for change and hungry for a different kind of politics, and ... for the first time in my adult life I am proud of my country because it feels like hope is finally making a comeback."

She did all that with grace, charm and a 150-watt smile. It was the equivalent of a double back flip with a twist. (And her eyebrows looked just terrific.)

Posted by Mary Newsom