On the First Lady’s Speech


Ethan Gach

I write about comics, video games and American politics. I fear death above all things. Just below that is waking up in the morning to go to work. You can follow me on Twitter at @ethangach or at my blog, gamingvulture.tumblr.com. And though my opinions aren’t for hire, my virtue is.

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77 Responses

  1. Avatar Michelle says:

    For the record, I can’t imagine Romney driving a junker or staying at a Motel 6. Romney’s always lived on a different plane than most Americans; all attempts to portray him as anything different invariably ring hollow.

    I read the linked article and was struck by the reactions the author’s family had to Obama. The older woman could easily be my mother, who’s hatred of Michelle Obama is so visceral it took her months to remember that the First Lady and I share a first name. I’m pretty sure that, if she watched the speech at all, she didn’t see the same speech I saw. Ditto for my father. I’ll spare you their commentary, but their inner racism has emerged with a vengeance. My father’s even talked about buying a gun if Obama loses, as he expects violent race riots to erupt.

    I suspect you’ll get the usual responses from the usual subjects about racializing the election. But to pretend that race is not an issue for some not insignificant portion of the population is to put on blinders. It’s been a Republican trope to present Democratic candidates as somehow less than American (e.g. the “Frenchness” of John Kerry) but the attack on Obama has been far more vicious than in past elections because of his color.Report

    • Avatar Kimmi says:

      Obama reeks of cool. The republicans distrust cool, particularly the backwoods sort. It’s not always about race, per se.
      If Obama acted as rich and stately as an old lord, you’d see less viciousness.
      He acts smart — and a lot of people got a problem with that.

      This is not to say that a good deal of thsoe people don’t also have a problem with race — but to limit it to race is to miss the big picture.Report

      • Avatar Michelle says:

        I think they’d have an even bigger problem if he acted rich and stately.Report

        • Avatar Kimmi says:

          And that’s where the Ivory Tower misses the peasants’ mind completely. Peasants know precisely how much obeisance is due a king, and their respect is given solely due to the person’s hereditary status.

          Such things, I’m certain, are far more important in some parts of America than others.Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck says:

        So Romney lives on a higher plane from most Americans and that’s bad.

        But Obama lives on a higher plane than most Americans and that’s good.Report

        • Avatar E.C. Gach says:

          As Benjamin Franklin intimated, we don’t exist on any one plane, but are constantly in a state of traversal.

          The point is where did you come from, and what does that say about what you understand of people and their circumstances, and the degree to which one’s compassion and ability for empathy can be predicted based on their life experiences.Report

  2. Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

    In comparison, I thought Michelle’s speech was better than Ann’s, but I think this was partially because Ann had a different job.

    For appealing to the base, they both did equally well. For appealing to the middle, I thought Michelle did a better job of making her and Barack seem like “just folks” than Ann did, but I think that’s because they’re a lot closer to being “just folks”, so the comparison isn’t really fair.Report

    • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

      Just folks.

      “She spoke movingly about their early years–about how a young Barack Obama drove a car that was “rusted out” and found his furniture “in a dumpster,” how they both came from families that had to “scrape by.” Her fairy tale–however well-delivered–was one great, big, colorful lie.

      Both Michelle Robinson and Barack Obama began their adult lives with a leg up on the rest of America. They attended elite schools: Michelle went to Whitney Young, the public magnet school for Chicago’s upper class, while Barack attended Punahou, the private prep school for the top stratum of Hawaiian society. They were accepted to Ivy League schools despite undistinguished credentials, and both attended Harvard Law School.

      “[B]elieve it or not, when we were first married, our combined monthly student loan bills were actually higher than our mortgage,” Michelle said. That sounds like a raw deal–but in fact reflects their fortunate circumstances. They had both just graduated from a very expensive law school, and their combined income from cushy law firm jobs dwarfed the repayments. Barack also soon enjoyed a second salary from the University of Chicago.
      They had expensive tastes, reflected in the $277,500 two-bedroom condo they bought in 1993–a high price even by today’s standards. Several years later, they moved into their $1.65 million mansion in Hyde Park–with the help of fraudster Tony Rezko. Barack often told a story of hardship on the campaign trail in 2008 about having his credit card declined–once. The fact that he thought this counted as real hardship speaks volumes.

      As her husband moved onto the national political stage, Michelle Obama began to enjoy a lavish lifestyle at taxpayer expense, directly and indirectly. When Barack Obama was elected to the U.S. Senate, he obtained a $1 million earmark for the University of Chicago Hospital–and his wife’s salary as Vice President for Community Affairs jumped from $121,910 to $316,962. Her job: pushing poor, uninsured patients to other hospitals.

      As First Lady, Michelle Obama has lived high on the hog while the rest of the country has suffered through an extraordinary recession. In 2010, she and her entourage decamped to Spain for a lavish vacation. That summer, the Obamas encouraged Americans to visit the Gulf coast after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which threatened tourism in the region. They promptly jetted off to Maine for their own summer holiday.”


      • Avatar Robert Greer says:

        I generally agree that Barack’s childhood deprivations are somewhat exaggerated. However little money he had, his mom was still a highly educated professional, and his grandparents were pretty solidly upper-middle class. But it’s unquestionable that Obama’s life experience would have exposed him pretty intimately to actual deprivation, and so I think the contrast Obama’s drawn between himself and Romney on this score is not entirely unwarranted. And Michelle came from an honest-to-goodness working-class family on the South Side. Posting this kind of article doesn’t exactly make you look good, Tom.Report

        • Avatar Chris says:

          Channeling my inner Jaybird:

          If this blog didn’t have Tom, we’d have to invent him. I’m not sure we didn’t, really.Report

          • Avatar wardsmith says:

            I for one am glad this site has a Tom, so that it doesn’t turn into a mutual admiration circle jerk society, otherwise known as Daily Kos. But I’m more than certain that a ‘certain’ class of person on this site would like nothing more than an echo chamber.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              Tom being Tom allows me to be me.Report

            • Avatar Rtod says:

              Agree with the first few words here, very much.Report

            • Avatar Jeff No-Last-Name says:

              Are those the only alternatives you see? Really?

              That’s sad.Report

              • Avatar joey jo jo says:

                I was just thinking the same thing, Jeff. It’s a false choice.

                Most blog communities have a similar refrain. “Better trolls please”. Now, to prebut the inevitable tu quoque, I am well aware that my interactions fairly paint me as a troll, or at least trollish to people. So I apply the refrain to myself. Dear FSM, send a better me, please and thank you. Grant us humble trolls the ability to refrain from turning every thread into the same conversation. Allow us to resist the siren call of logical fallacy.Report

        • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

          Look good to whom, Robert? Obamans? It’s devastating to the Obama myth. In fact, it was the African American community who gave him the business about not being “authentically” black, that he grew up pretty much as a middle-class white dude. Which he did.

          As for Barack and Michelle’s $200+K condo as newlyweds, like please, man. Just folks? None that I know.Report

          • Avatar Robert Greer says:

            TVD, I didn’t deny that Obama grew up with a fair amount of privilege. In fact, I explicitly agreed with part of your assessment. But I disagree that Obama’s actual background explodes the convention narrative. Sure, the characterization of Obama’s background at the DNC does a fair amount of cherry-picking, but it’s TRUE that Obama has been a lot more intimate with deprivation and the struggle to overcome it than Romney. And for you and Breitbart.com to insinuate that Michelle was some kind of fortunate daughter is pretty damn unseemly.Report

            • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

              Does Barack Obama feel your pain more than Mitt Romney? Not self-evident. That’s the myth part.

              Hey, I think Barack Obama [and Michelle] did well regardless of what advantages they enjoyed. You still have to get through school. But a Ivy League education and law degree, gigs at Sidley & Austin, a tippy-top national law firm, and it’s don’t cry for me, Argentina.Report

              • Avatar Robert Greer says:

                Why did the Obamas give stories about their background as evidence for their better understanding of overcoming adversity if they thought it was self-evident? You’re being incoherent, Tom.

                Tom, if you think that the Obamas are trying to get you to cry over their successes, then you’re missing the point.Report

            • Avatar DensityDuck says:

              “it’s TRUE that Obama has been a lot more intimate with deprivation and the struggle to overcome it than Romney.”

              So do we get to bring up Romney’s charity work? Or do we have to have a sort of Selflessness junk-measuring contest between the two candidates to see who’s more worthy?Report

              • Avatar Robert Greer says:

                Of course you can bring up Romney’s charity work. I’ve written elsewhere about how I think Romney gets short shrift for the work he did with his Church. But I still think it’s fair to wonder whether Romney’s rather narrow personal experiences render his “I’ll lift you up” tendencies more paternalistic than the Obamas’ “You can follow our path.”Report

          • Avatar Liberty60 says:

            “…he grew up pretty much as a middle-class white dude.
            As for Barack and Michelle’s $200+K condo as newlyweds, like please, man. Just folks? None that I know.”

            You don’t know any middle class white people?Report

          • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

            What makes you look bad, TVD, is the credulousness with which you lap up stuff from places like Breitbart then spread it around – as though the writers can be presumed trustworthy and honest.Report

            • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

              No, CK, people who kneejerkily reject things based on the source commit a fallacy.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

                TVD, if you read the piece that you presented critically, you would note that it makes certain implicit claims about the timeline of the happy couple’s courtship and eventually marriage without actually supporting them factually. It wants to imply that the FLOTUS lied – and succeeds in communicating the implication to people like yourself, who describe it as “devastating,” but it does not actually present evidence of a lie. It refrains from noting, for instance, that by the time the newlyweds moved into their upscale Hyde Park condo, they had been seeing each other for four years. I’ve known personally the sons and daughters of authentically very wealthy families – for real Beverly Hills 90210 elite – who went through periods of struggling to make ends meet, who possessed dumpster furniture and drove crappy cars, worked as waiters, and so on, so there’s nothing about the recitation that facially establishes the untruth of the story or any aspect of it as regards these markedly less privileged individuals, even if they did happen to catch several breaks that maybe you and I never did, and then went on, as their careers progressed, to join the golden circle through the balance of the ’90s. The rest of the “devastation” includes the kind of attempt to stoke resentment that, if it was deployed against one of your heroes, you would unstintingly reject as classist, divisive, un-American, and downright satanic.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                CK, I withdrew the “lie” part. As I said to Robert, I was skimming. The facts are sound, though. They were married in 1992 and had a $200K condo by 2003. Sidley & Austin pays well.

                As for the rest, there’s an assumption that Barack is more “feeling” than Mitt that needs serious questioning. That’s the relevant issue, not this “Our house was so small, the mice were stoop-shouldered” vaudeville.

                [Oh, you had a ceiling?]Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

                One last time. You withdraw “the ‘lie’ part,” but “the lie part” was the thesis of what you posted. It’s crass propagandistic garbage, which is, after all, the Breitbart specialty.Report

              • Avatar Robert Greer says:

                TVD didn’t even withdraw the “lie” part, he just said it was “at least a violation of civility.” So TVD was caught advancing a lie, and when caught, couldn’t give a repudiation that wasn’t totally mealy-mouthed. I’m all for ideological diversity on this site, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect a higher standard from someone who is obviously capable of it.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                Oh stop it, you two. “Lie” is withdrawn. I don’t like the word. I used it about Clinton today, but he’s a special case.

                “We had to figure out how to deal with a former president who was just lying, engaging in bald-faced lies,” Obama told Wolffe.


                When you call Bill Clinton a liar, you mean it in the nicest possible way. 😉Report

            • Avatar Robert Greer says:

              ^Ding ding ding.Report

  3. Avatar Michelle says:

    Ann would have done better had she simply acknowledged that she and Mitt never really struggled; they were blessed and extended their blessings through hard work and a bit of good luck. I don’t think there are too many people out there who begrudge them their privileged start in life. Thus, pretending otherwise didn’t ring true and detracted from the rest of her speech. Of course, it was also quite the uphill battle for her to humanize Mitt. Not quite sure she succeeded.Report

    • Avatar ktward says:

      Spot on point.

      Obama (Mrs. too) has long campaigned upon and opined an appreciation for his own blessings as well as the privilege that his own daughters enjoy, all in advocacy of working towards equal opportunity.

      There is such a stark contrast in Obama’s and Romney’s narratives. In theory, I’d be flummoxed that this stark contrast weren’t more obvious to a whole lot of folks, except that the particular whole-lot-of-folks it’s not obvious to happen to be either partisan ideologues or [old?] peeps carrying sad baggage.Report

    • Avatar Morat20 says:

      You can’t acknowledge luck. Luck means that success in life is not wholly on merits. If success in life isn’t wholly based on merit, then things like a social safety net are not just the moral thing to do — but the intelligent thing to do.

      If bad luck (ie: No fault of your own) can bankrupt you, cripple you, cost you your home or businesss — then very obviously you’d want something like “bad luck insurance”. You know, pay a little when times are good as a hedge against that bad luck. (We call it ‘unemployment insurance’, ‘social security’, ‘Medicare’, ‘food stamps’)

      Which is why you often see conservatives stretch and reach to explain how someone obvioiusy unlucky (say, bankrupt and jobless due to sudden case of cancer) is not unlucky, stretching to point to some decision, some act, that makes them “lazy and shiftless”. Their countertops are granite (to name a famous example) which means they’re really not bankrupt.

      If merit and merit alone makes success — then helping the poor, the sick, and the downtrodden is just rewarding sloth — and showering the rich with praises is rewarding virtue. If luck is involved, well….then you have to ask questions about “What should the lucky do for the society they lucked out in?” and “Should the lucky pay for things they might one day need, if bad luck strikes them”.

      Basically, it leads straight to liberalism.

      “Luck” means the free market does not, in fact, fart magic unicorn pixie dust over everything.Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck says:

        “You know, pay a little when times are good as a hedge against that bad luck. (We call it ‘unemployment insurance’, ‘social security’, ‘Medicare’, ‘food stamps’)”

        Or “putting money in the bank”, maybe. But that’s one of those silly individual responsibility things we’re all supposed to hate.Report

        • Avatar Sierra Nevada says:

          Um, banks crash. So they have stuff like depositor insurance, a la FDIC. For the socialism.

          Individual responsibility is enhanced by some government social institutions, but that’s another of those silly things we’re supposed to hate.Report

        • Avatar Morat20 says:

          All it would take is a layoff and an serious illness — or car accident — and I’ve gone from productive, middle class citizen to bankrupt, homeless, living off food stamps and dodging medical bills I’d never be able to pay.

          FYI — I’m solidly middle class. Have been since I graduated when I was in my early 20s. If I saved, oh, 50% of my income from my first job until now (a good 20 years), I think I’m only a decade short of paying for a week or two in the ICU.

          Hope my luck holds.Report

          • Avatar DensityDuck says:

            So, you don’t have family or a community you can turn to for support? (And why didn’t you buy car insurance if you worry about a car accident?)

            Or did you figure that the government would take care of everything and so you didn’t need to bother maintaining connection to family or community?Report

            • Avatar Kimmi says:

              now, now, he could be a Romney, utterly incapable of…Report

            • Avatar MikeSchilling says:

              I’ve figured out why libertarians don’t get health care — they think you can pay for it with car insurance.Report

            • Avatar Kazzy says:

              Sometimes having a family or community that can support you is itself a stroke of luck.

              No, wait, what am I saying? If all those poor folk just worked harder, they’d have more wealthy parents!Report

            • Avatar Jeff No-Last-Name says:

              He (I’m pretty sure Morat is a he) was talking about being crippled in a car accident. Car insurance doesn’t pay for that.

              But I think you knew that.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer says:


      It might work better for a liberal or Democratic President (FDR strikes me as a prime example) but I wonder why few politicians say something like: “Yes I grew up with a lot of advantages that many people do not have. I am very grateful for these advantages but realize that many were an accident of birth. I would like to help even the playing field or make sure that people do not struggle with basic necessities.”Report

  4. Avatar ktward says:

    Relative to the CRA days when droves of southern Dems morphed into Republicans, the racist DNA of the GOP has evolved: it’s measurably less ugly today (as in less overt) and we really do need the insights of folks like Ta-Nehisi Coates to better understand the insidious nature of it.

    The GOP’s sexist DNA, otoh, pretty much remains just as obvious as ever.Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck says:

      Which is as I’ve said elsewhere, that the goal of progressives is not to mitigate the harmful effects of racism, but to eliminate the very mode of thinking that leads to racism. Thoughtcrime ungood.Report

      • Avatar E.C. Gach says:

        A thought or feeling is different than a sentiment.Report

        • Avatar DensityDuck says:

          Yes, thoughts and feelings are something that individual people have. Sentiments, on the other hand, don’t have to be held by anyone, meaning that you can never disprove their existence. It may be that no Republican voter you’ve ever met in person has had a racist thought in their head, but you’re still fighting against the sentiment of racism that all Republicans hold as a matter of course.Report

      • Avatar ktward says:

        the goal of progressives is not to mitigate the harmful effects of racism, but to eliminate the very mode of thinking that leads to racism.

        Huh. I’m not entirely sure what to make of your comment, Mr. Duck.
        But, it sounds like you’re admitting that the GOP is full of peeps who employ a “mode of thinking that leads to racism”, and on its face I’m inclined to mostly agree with that point.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:

        Some questions:

        1. What is this “mode of thinking” that leads to racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia?

        2. What is morally objectionable or wrong about eliminating racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, etc?

        Yes we liberals want to mitigate the effects of racism but there is nothing morally wrong with going for the root of the cause and eliminating the beast itself. Just like the best way to fight crime is to attack the causes of crime (like poverty and lack of opportunity) instead of just locking people up.Report

  5. Avatar MikeSchilling says:

    That’s a nice dress the First Lady wore. It is a Versace or a Stokely Carmichael?Report