August 25, 2008

I love political conventions, in part because I remember the olden days, when there was some doubt as to their outcome. Nowadays, of course, party conventions are carefully choreographed events, as is the coverage. I”€™m watching MSNBC, out of habit, but their “€œreporting”€ is barely tolerable: it’s like watching what one imagines Soviet television must have been like, “€œcovering”€ the latest Party Congress. Even Keith Olbermann got sick of hearing of what he called his own “€œsycophantic”€ effusions.

I came in when Nancy Pelosi took the podium, but MSNBC lost the sound connection, and thank the gods for small mercies. One could only imagine her bloviating bromides, those pop-eyes jumping out at the television audience like two hardboiled eggs. The sounds comes back on, but what’s she saying? Well, not much of anything. Not that we can really hear anything above the ponfications of the pundits.

I love Takimag, but asking me to watch Caroline Kennedy’s panegyric to her depraved old uncle, not to mention the satyr himself, is too far beyond the call of duty. In any case, except for Senator Kennedy, it’s apparently ladies”€™ night, with Michelle Obama the star attraction.

The introductory propaganda film is very affecting. It’s all about family values: Michelle the motherly achiever.  She’s introduced by her brother, Craig Robinson. His speech is about reinforcing the theme of upward mobility “€“ work, family, perseverance in the face of adversity. Michelle’s father died early from complications from MS, and the story of how she derived strength from his example, and the example of her mother, is a winning narrative for sure “€“ and one that would not be out of place at a Republican convention, circa 1980.

The audience is inattentively loud: Robinson is dragging on, speaking in a near monotone. Stylistically, he only warms up when he starts talking about Barack Obama’s basketball skills, likening them to his political skills. Craig finally winds up, introducing “€œmy little sister.”€

What’s she wearing? A green v-neck dress with a green sunburst decorating her cleavage. A weak opening: she starts out likening her husband’s race for president to Barack’s first basketball game with her brother. Oh, really?

As she warmed up, however, Michelle gave us a well-crafted and very personal speech that fulfilled the promise of the video “€“ it was all about family. She related a very effective narrative that was rooted in the strength of her father “€“ who, in spite of his illness, got up a little earlier in the morning to make up for it “€“ and in her fierce love of her children. Her face lit up when she talked about her kids, two wonderful little girls, the older one a budding beauty. She spoke of the sacrifices of her parents, and gave a very compelling account of how she saw the intelligence and integrity of her mother reflected in her young daughters.

Like all convention speeches, it went on a bit too long, and she never completely shed her initial uncertainty, except at the end “€“ or what should have been the end “€“ when she capped her narrative of hard-fought upward mobility with the line “€œAnd that’s why I love America.”€ A very effective slap at the neocons, who are trying to smear her as “€œanti-American.”€

The neocons have tried to define Michelle Obama as a b*tch, and her color no doubt plays a role in that caricature. What came out of this speech was the impression of a very strong woman who is, nevertheless, a very traditional wife and mother, one who has managed to balanc two often antithetical roles “€“ the professional and the maternal “€“ quite effortlessly, with the latter certainly predominating. In that sense, Michelle’s no Hillary Clinton “€“ whom she went out of her way to praise in the course of her speech: she is staying at home baking cookies, and quite obviously sees nothing wrong in that. How many white women, especially those who have worked for a high-powered law firm, are likely to have done that? And how many would be quite so proud of it?

The Republican effort to smear Michelle Obama as some kind of wild-eyed radical is going to backfire, and badly, once America gets to know her.




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