At the risk of inviting legions of conservatives to swoop down and tell me I'm drowning in the
Almost immediately, the speech was being called "politically masterful," "a devastating attack on
Oh, and speaking of the Romneys,
There are, of course, the reliable dissenters. In the postgame chit-chat Tuesday night, CNN commentator and former Bush White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said the speech played well "in a hall of zealots," and
The "we were young and poor" narrative has played a big role in this presidential election, and not just because some people have had difficulty swallowing that line from the Romneys, who were actually living off a stock investment during those basement apartment years and who were later given $42,000 from Mitt's father to buy a house. (Said Ann Romney back in 1994: "You know what? The mortgage payment was less than rent … we stayed there seven years and sold it for $90,000, so we not only stayed for free, we made money. As I said, Mitt's very bright.") It's played a big role because a lot of Americans are feeling not so young but still poor these days. They're eating off some version of that fold-out ironing board and looking for leaders who have at least some inkling of what that feels like.
But just because both candidates are talking about their early ambitions doesn't mean those ambitions had much in common. And that's why, to me, the most powerful moment of Michelle's speech was not the line that most of her fans seem to be talking about — "I've seen firsthand that being president doesn't change who are you; it reveals who you are" — but the part where she talked about all the people who contributed to her and her husband's success story.
"We learned about gratitude and humility; that so many people had a hand in our success, from the teachers who inspired us to the janitors who kept our school clean; and we were taught to value everyone's contribution and treat everyone with respect."
This idea is, of course, what the president was trying to get at when he mangled his words in July and stepped into the "you didn't build that" gaffe (an idea, incidentally, he swiped from Massachusetts Senate candidate
That Michelle managed to say it far more eloquently is a testament to the power of rehearsed speeches. That she bothered to bring it up at all is a testament to just how important it is as a guiding principle, not just to liberals like the Obamas but as a traditional American value.
Strangely, however, in a political culture that likes to robotically scream out "U.S.A!" at every opportunity, gratitude and humility have fallen pretty far down the list of traditional values. In fact, to Ayn Rand-worshipers on the right, the idea that the ladder to success is held steady by a great many people on the ground smacks of touchy-feely liberalism in the "it takes a village" vein. It's the kind of thing that gets President Obama labeled a radical socialist by people who have no idea what socialism is; the kind of thing that prompts people like
That's why what struck me about Michelle's sentiments was actually how old-fashioned they sounded; how steeped they were in real conservatism, the kind that values all types of hardworking people, not just those who are businessmen or would like to be. And that's also why I hope that the excitement around her speech will afford us the opportunity to consider just how un-radical these supposed radicals are. From the looks of things, they're walking down the center of Main Street. It's the far right that's in danger of driving off the road.