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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Michelle Obama spoke, and I watched as her eyes glazed with the beginning of tears.

When Mrs. Obama stepped to the lectern last night, several goals had been put before her. Mind you, they weren't necessarily her goals, her husband's goals or even those of the party whose convention she was addressing. Mainly, it seemed that the goals were set before her by the political punditry, deeming either that she needed to buttress the racist charges against her and her family which have been miming as "questions about patriotism", goading her into proclaiming how much she loves America. Some were foisted upon her by us Black folks, treasuring the history being made as a strong, very well-educated woman, descended from African slaves, stood before America to tell us why her husband, another Black man, should be President of the United States.

But as I reflect on her speech, I realize that there's one thing that Michelle herself wanted to make damned sure that everybody knew: that she is truly, madly, deeply in love with one Barack Obama.

Now, one might think that should be obvious at this point. I mean, in theory, a woman married to a man conjures the image of love, and considering that Michelle borne him two precious little girls and been married to him since 1992. Add to that all the private patience she must have shown over the course of Barack's political career, and the campaigning she's done on his behalf over the years. It hasn't always made her happy to put outside interests in front of her family's. Put on top of that the fact that she's managed to do so while building one hell of a career of her own, as a Harvard Law grad who has worked on behalf of corporate interests and (when that didn't fulfill her) the public good. Michelle Obama is undoubtedly an accomplished woman in her own right.

Yet, she devotes herself unconditionally to her husband, and their children. And instead of talking about her professional accomplishments, she talked about them.

Witness Dalia Lithwick's observation (h/t - Sullivan):

Here is a woman with a degree from Harvard Law School, who could have talked about law and policy and poverty, and yet she talked about her kids, her husband, and her family. And she didn't do that merely to show us that smart women are soft and cuddly on the inside. She did what everyone else in this campaign is terrified to do: She risked looking sappy and credulous and optimistic when almost everyone has abandoned "hope" and "change" for coughing up hairballs of outrage. Every Democrat in America seems to be of the view that optimism is so totally last February; that now's the time to hunker down and panic real hard. Good for Michelle for reminding us that to "strive for the world as it should be" is still cool, and for being so passionate about that fact that she looked to be near tears. Good for her for speaking from the heart when everyone else seems to be speaking from the root cellar.

Making Michelle's life choices in today's society are not necessarily as natural as one might believe, since women are no longer encouraged to cast homemakers as heroes. The paradox that has been established in a society dominated by men (or at least, the societal structures that men have built) is that women have to choose between career and home, while men don't face such a dilemma. But as the daughter of a homemaker herself, Michelle clearly understands how powerful it can be to have love in one's home. She seems to be a unique combination of forcefulness and warmth, a complete American woman who might close a million-dollar deal at 5:30 and close a bedtime story cover at 9. When her stories about her messy, absent-minded husband surprised some on the trail, I simply nodded my head in recognition. I was raised by a woman like this, a mother with the kindest heart whose little boy was everything, but never let him get away with anything, a career woman who got her Ph.D. a year after her only child received his bachelor's degree. I recognize women like Michelle Obama because I grew up with one right in my own home.

I see Michelle Obamas everywhere, strong Black women who love their men and their careers, finding time for both. (I recognize such a woman in my sweetheart, the doctoral candidate.) But from the sound of it, the invisibility that applies to so many people of color in this country continues to hold these Black women in its stead, keeping them from the view of (willfully?) ignorant Americans who seem unable to understand that yes, a Michelle Obama can exist. Dealing with such a revelation can be troubling, particularly when you're so used to seeing our political contests twist women like this into angry, histrionic witches while corporate heiresses like Cindy McCain are allowed to stand there, smile and wave. The masculine nature of our politics has made female candidates into harridans and political wives into archetypes, easily consumable by a lazy American public that can't be bothered, it seems, to find out who people actually are.

Cindy McCain is the Barbie doll, non-threatening in every way conceivable. But Michelle Obama is something else. Her pigeonhole can't accommodate this sister, a. And by refusing to fit into it, Michelle becomes a threat.

So that's why she didn't do what so many expected her to do - tell her story as it truly is, the career woman who puts family first. Growing up in a situation in which that was the norm for me, I can say that there is a tenderness to these women that goes under-appreciated, and her love for Barack shone out. It's in her eyes, the passion of her diction, and the smile on her face. Watch the speech again. You'll see it.

The telling moment comes when she describes Barack driving his wife and newborn daughter Malia home after her birth. I'm not a father yet, but in listening to her tear up as she recounted how Barack nervously checked on his wife and brand new joy in the backseat, driving ever so carefully home from the hospital...there was nothing more that needed to be said. That's love.

I know my lady saw the same last night as we watched Michelle at the lectern. During the speech, I looked to her beside me, listening with an intensity that I see every so often, unshakable as I selfishly tried in vain to steal a moment for our eyes to connect. All she could seem to say was, "She's so amazing. She's so amazing." I saw this woman my lady so adored and, whether she realizes it or not, is becoming herself.

Michelle Obama spoke, and I watched as her eyes glazed with the beginning of tears.

The historical import of the moment was palpable, yes. But it was the love that Michelle showed that reminded us of that which exists in so many households all over this country, love that remains unspoken as America tries to pigeonhole itself and its women. She loves her man, and that is beautiful. The number of degrees, her salary, the size of her home - none of that mattered. Michelle could reach heights her ancestors never dreamed of with her education, drive and talent, but damn it all if she couldn't have Barack by her side.

As for us men? For those, like me, who recognize Michelle Obama in our mothers, grandmothers, sisters and sweethearts, her speech served as a pleasant reminder to me how much I value the women who found time in their quest to better themselves and loved us all the while.

  • LOVE, CTD.

  • Nate Silver at 538, from his live blog from Denver:
    9:02 MDT: Show, don't tell. That last exchange with the kids may have been a setup but it was unfakeable. There is no greater common denominator than a genuine expression of love in a family. Everyone relates to that. That isn't a person telling a touching story about how they were raised, that was love in real time.


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