Brady Bunch Politics
I understand why Michelle Obama gave the speech she did last night, and I think it is fair to say the speech was beautifully delivered. But I have never been a big fan of the campaign reintroduction speech. I was no more favorably disposed to this rhetorical strategy last spring, when John McCain used it (with weak results) in an attempt to jump-start his own sluggish campaign.
There is a fallacy in electoral politics that many of the rough patches experienced by a campaign can simply be explained by the voting public’s unfamiliarity with the candidate and his family (rather than by complex factors like race, gender and ideology), even when that candidate has been running for president for most of the past two years. Last night, the Obama campaign was clearly operating under this assumption, with Michelle Obama talking movingly about her close family, working-class roots, and love of motherhood and country. The campaign no doubt hoped this presentation would make the Obamas seem a bit more like a typical American family.
But the reality is that you don’t reach the cusp of the presidency by being just like everyone else. And campaign reintroductions don’t occur in a political vacuum. As my sampling of Republican reaction after the speech confirmed, the opposition’s parallel narrative of otherness, liberal elitism, and lack of leadership preparation will continue unabated long after the particulars of Michelle Obama’s speech are forgotten, which is why I am always skeptical that these kinds of iterative campaign reintroductions really make much of a difference in the end.
I am not suggesting she should have used her time at the podium to launch a frontal attack on Republicans, or set out her own party’s policy agenda in detail. That is the responsibility of the many elected Democratic officials on hand in Denver to undertake those critical tasks. But as I watched Michelle Obama’s impressive speech last night, I couldn’t help but wonder whether those party elites could have put the evening to better use.
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