Michelle Obama’s speech

Michelle Obama did her part and closed a somewhat purposeless first day of the Democratic convention on a positive note. She came over as strong and assured, yet approachable and not at all threatening or angry–those last two were the notes, of course, that the campaign was most anxious to avoid. Her story was touching, and their marriage reflects well on her husband. Yes, one thought, she is a remarkable woman and he did well. Also, she dealt deftly with a couple of awkward issues: of course she loves America; and words can barely do justice to her regard for Hillary Clinton. It was good stuff, well delivered.

My spirits sagged, and even then only a little, at just two points. It’s starting to annoy me that Barack keeps telling us how he turned down Wall Street for a career in “public service”. By this he means politics. Just how great a sacrifice is that? The kind of ambition that gets you into the Senate and maybe the White House is not exactly renouncing the world and all its temptations, is it? And now here we have Michelle doing the same thing. She gave up lawyering, she says, and chose “public service”–the kind that leads in due course to a 300k-plus salary. I’ve no problem with it. I just don’t want to keep being asked to admire the sacrifice.

The other dispiriting thing was the stuff with the girls at the end. They are cute, and the traditions of American politics must be observed, no doubt, but it makes me uncomfortable to see children used as political props. One ought to feel much the same way, I suppose, about spouses. At a couple of points in this campaign, when Michelle has come in for criticism, Barack said, “leave her out of this.” At those times I remember thinking, he’s right: the country is not electing her. Maybe, in fact, it is: in any event, you can’t have it both ways.

A little earlier, the ailing Ted Kennedy greatly moved the audience with a most dignified address–a speech that was all about the country and Obama, and not at all about him. And yet, as I say, the first day seemed somewhat drifting and unfocused. With three days still to go, it is too soon to complain of complacency. But the Democratic campaign is in trouble. So far, you would not know it from the mood in Denver.

Clive Crook’s blog

This blog is no longer updated but it remains open as an archive.

I have been the FT's Washington columnist since April 2007. I moved from Britain to the US in 2005 to write for the Atlantic Monthly and the National Journal after 20 years working at the Economist, most recently as deputy editor. I write mainly about the intersection of politics and economics.

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