If Hillary Clinton does go on to become the first woman President of United States, she owes a big ‘thank you’ to Michelle Obama.
In a stirring speech of style, substance and emotional connect on the opening night of the Democratic National Convention, the First Lady gave Hillary — a former adversary — a much-needed boost and reduced Republican candidate Donald J Trump to a rump with a flurry of punches without once taking his name.
Michelle probably got herself a crack speech-writer unlike Melania Trump.
But that alone can’t possibly explain the grace, depth of knowledge and conviction on display in her elocution on Monday night that could have rivaled any of Barack Obama’s speeches in terms of oratory and poise. In so doing, she also perhaps laid the foundation for her own future bid for the White House.
What is of essence, though, that Michelle chose to put behind the much-publicised bad blood between the two most powerful women in US politics at a crucial time. Her ringing endorsement of the Clinton campaign comes when Hillary — despite creating history by becoming the first woman to win a White House nomination of a major US political party on Tuesday — is struggling with poor ratings, perception issues and deep hatred from a section of her own voters who saw a champion in challenger Bernie Sanders.
The longstanding bitterness between Clinton and Sanders’ backers grew worse over the past few days and exploded during Democratic National Convention as Sanders’s delegates were seen leaving the Wells Fargo Center in droves. A cache of hacked emails had recently exposed how Democratic Party officials had sought to undermine Sanders in the race for the nomination in favour of Clinton.
Such is the bitterness that even Sanders’ full-throated endorsement of Clinton drew jeers and boos from his own supporters who were reduced to tears at his valedictory tone. They later protested inside and outside the DNC site and clashed with the police when news came in that Hillary had won the party’s presidential nomination.
“This was not a convention. This was a four-day Hillary party. And we weren’t welcome,” news agency AP quoted a New Jersey delegate, as saying during the protest rally. “We were treated like lepers.”
But this is only a part of Clinton’s troubles. CNN‘s latest opinion poll shows that her image is now at its lowest point in a 24-year career on the national political scene.
The Democrat nominee is viewed unfavorably by 57 percent of Americans, compared to 38 percent who view her favourably, according to Gallup’s daily tracking poll. It means that she is only slightly more popular than her Republican opponent Donald Trump — whose favourability rating is at 36 percent. According to Gallup, Clinton’s favourable rating stands at 70 percent, which means nearly a third of Democrats don’t hold a favourable view of her. At this point in the 2008 campaign, 84 percent of Democrats favoured Barack Obama.
Besides, there are perception issues.
Clinton is firmly seen as part of the establishment. Middle-of-the road, working class white Americans struggling with poor pay and rising inequality are angry with the system. This swing segment, not necessarily Republican voters, hates Clinton. The DNC kicked off on Monday night with rousing speeches delivered by progressive US Senators Sanders and Elizabeth Warren wherein they blasted the rich. Sanders highlighted that “it is not moral, not acceptable … that the top one-tenth of one percent now own almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent” and Warren added that chief executives are making tens of millions of dollars, “but it isn’t trickling down to hard-working families.”
Now consider the significance. Around 60 percent of Sanders’s campaign funds or $134 million, came via ordinary Americans who contributed $27 each, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In contrast, Clinton had to solely rely on money from corporates. Wall Street is her largest industry donor, with $41 million going into her coffers.
With terrorism being the second biggest concern among Americans, the former secretary of state must impress upon her voters that her national security policy won’t be more of the same. That is a tall ask because it will in all probability be more of the same because she was among the chief architect of Obama’s national-security policies. And according to the latest Economist/YouGov poll, only 42 percent of people approve of how Obama is handling terrorism.
In the race tension that has gripped the US and is threatening to tear it apart, Clinton has expectedly sided with the Black Lives Matter sentiment to consolidate her position among her own voters and further swaying away from Trump’s core voters, the angry middle-class whites.
Amid this treacherous backdrop, Michelle Obama stepped in and hit the ball for a six. Never once referring to Trump, she condemned “the hateful language that we hear from public figures on TV.”
“How we insist that the hateful language they hear from public figures on TV does not represent the true spirit of this country. How we explain that when someone is cruel or acts like a bully, you don’t stoop to their level. No, our motto is, when they go low, we go high.”
Much of her speech was about the children and how it is incumbent on the voters now to choose wisely so that the fate of America’s future citizens is secure. She started with an anecdote and quickly turned it around and twisted the knife.
“I will never forget that winter morning as I watched our girls, just 7 and 10 years old, pile into those black SUVs with all those big men with guns. And I saw their little faces pressed up against the window, and the only thing I could think was, what have we done?
At that moment I realised that our time in the White House would form the foundation for who they would become, and how well we managed this experience could truly make or break them. That is what Barack and I think about every day as we try to guide and protect our girls through the challenges of this unusual life in the spotlight, how we urge them to ignore those who question their father’s citizenship or faith.”
She added: “This election — every election — is about who will have the power to shape our children for the next four or eight years of our lives. And I am here tonight because in this election, there is only one person who I trust with that responsibility — only one person who I believe is truly qualified to be President of the United States. And that is our friend, Hillary Clinton.”
She picked up the topic of race in a poignant, almost poetic phrase that sought to address the issues that the US is now struggling to contain.
“That is the story of this country, the story that has brought me to this stage tonight, 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.”
In the next logical step to this American story, where everyone is born equal but not everyone has experienced equality, it would be the greatest of statement, perhaps, to elect a woman as president after a black man. She took up Trump’s campaign slogan, Make America Great Again, and used it as a weapon against the Republican nominee.
“Don’t let anyone ever tell you that this country isn’t great, that somehow we need to make it great again,” Obama said, just after her discussion of race and gender in the White House. “Because this right now is the greatest country on Earth!”
Even Donald Trump seems to have been taken in by Michelle’s speech, telling Hollywood Reporter: “I thought her delivery was excellent… I thought she did a very good job. I liked her speech.”
One of the biggest problems the Democrats have faced over the years is that their voters lack the drive to come out and cast their ballots unlike their Republican counterparts. That could make all the difference in what promises to be a taut, tight race. Michelle’s last few lines were focused on driving that message home.
“In this election, we cannot sit back and hope that everything works out for the best, we cannot afford to be tired or frustrated or cynical. Hear me: Between now and November, we need to do what we did eight years ago and four years ago. We need to knock on every door, we need to get out every vote, we need to pour every last ounce of passion into electing Hillary Clinton as president of the United States of America. Let’s get to work.”
Clinton won’t find a better ally.