PHILADELPHIA — In an emotional, soaring and pointedly political speech on the first night of the Democratic National Convention tonight, first lady Michelle Obama braided together her case for her husband’s legacy, her support for the woman who is trying to succeed him and her repudiation of the man who is trying to defeat her.
The role of a president, she said, is to create the future for the next generation, and it was that goal that guided Barack Obama’s presidency.
“That is what we’re deciding,” in this election, she said, as those in the packed arena waved purple signs that simply said “Michelle.” “Not Democrat or Republican, not left or right, this election and every election is about who will have the power to shape our children for the next four to eight years of their lives.”
The only person “who I trust with that responsibility,” she said, is “our friend Hillary Clinton.”
Michelle Obama has not always felt this warmly about Hillary Clinton, who ran hard against Barack Obama in 2008. But in remarks designed to simultaneously allude to those mended fences and at the same time send a message to Bernie Sanders supporters who have protested her, often loudly on this opening day, she said: “When she didn’t win the nomination eight years ago, she didn’t get angry or disillusioned. Hillary did not pack up and go home. Because as a true public servant, Hillary knows that this is so much bigger than her own desires and disappointments.”
Returning to the theme, she continued, “Hillary understands that the president is about one thing and one thing only; it’s about leaving something better for our kids.”
But most of the first lady’s comments were reserved, directly and obliquely, for Republican nominee Donald Trump.
“When I think about the kind of president I want for my girls and all our children,” she said, “I want someone who knows that the issues a president faces are not black and white and can not be boiled down to 140 characters. Because when you have the nuclear codes at your fingertips and the military at your command, you can’t have a thin skin and a tendency to lash out. You need to be steady and well-informed.”
Attempting to transfer to Clinton some of the enthusiasm voters have shown for the president in the past two elections — enthusiasm that pollsters have found is lacking this time around — Obama exhorted delegates to “do what we did eight years ago and four years ago, get out every vote, pour every last ounce of our passion and our strength into electing Hillary Clinton as president of the United States of America.”
But her most resounding notes were struck when pushing back on the opponent who would prevent that, and who, in doing so, aims to diminish everything that she believes her husband has accomplished.
“I wake up every morning in a house built by slaves,” Obama said. “And I watch my daughters — two beautiful, intelligent black young women — playing with their dogs on the White House lawn. And because of Hillary Clinton, my daughters — and all our sons and daughters — now take for granted that a woman can be president of the United States.
“Don’t let anyone ever tell you that this country isn’t great,” she said, “that somehow we need to make it great again. Because this right now is the greatest country on earth.”