DURHAM ARMORY, NC-- Michelle Obama was scheduled to appear here on Friday last week, at 12:30 pm. I drove two-and-a-half hours from Charlotte to see her. She arrived more than two hours late. They said there were some "weather" issues in Chicago, which delayed her flight. It was a small venue that held approximately 200-250 Obama faithful. Michelle apologized, "I'm sorry folks, cuz we don't do late." She started as Barack does, giving shout-outs to the local politicians and volunteers.
From the outset she made it clear that she was there to set the record straight. She definitely left an impression that she was "sick and tired of all the games" -- at least that's how Libria Stephens and Jessica Flood, two black women attorneys from Durham, saw it. I had another impression. She was at all times forthright, and not political or careful in her choice of words or manner. She was the antithesis of every political wife we know. She has her opinions and one can tell immediately she doesn't mind telling you them, whether you ask or not.
Michelle's childhood reads like the first two seasons of "Good Times" -- when the father was still around and they were poor but happy. Of course she's more like Michael, than Thelma. She may not be glamorous but she has a very lovely bearing. Her clothes are not stylish; in fact the floral pattern dress she had on looked as if it was a Christmas gift from a favorite aunt, so she didn't have the heart to return it.
This was my first time seeing her in person, and I was impressed at how well she was able to make a speech I heard her give on C-span a dozen times sound fresh. She has a nice, if not sarcastic and biting sense of humor. In many ways she came off as an enigma. Even though she's entered the most public arena one can enter, she is still guarded with herself and family. Who can blame her for wanting to keep some privacy, but as the recent "Enquirer" headline proves, she's fighting a losing battle.
Where Barack is hopeful and tends to be loftier in his speech, Michelle is the back to basics girl. She adds plenty of homespun euphemisms, which makes the audience feel like "She's just like us." Michelle has no problem showing and telling you she's from the south side of Chicago, "where politics is rough and tumble." I wondered whether if Hillary Clinton would've had a grittier opponent in Michelle than Barack. There would definitely be no question as to whether or not she's tough enough.
Michelle is passionate, strident, poignant and at times angry and perhaps bitter. I may not have left there knowing much about Barack's policy positions but I did leave there knowing that Michelle Obama does not like Billary and furthermore she doesn't give a piss who knows it. The fact that she isn't political is one of her best assets.
Excerpts from Michelle Obama's speech
"The bar is constantly shifting and moving. The sad irony is, that's exactly what's happening to most people in this country. People struggling and working hard and when they get to one place the bar is moved."
"People become isolated, there's a level of division. You don't have time to get to know your neighbor."
Her cadence was that of a preacher and the audience responded with, "Yes, yes, speak on it, tell it Michelle!"
"The struggling farmer in Iowa same as inner-city worker in Chicago. You hear it, 'I can't be bothered voting because it never does anything.'"
"Our children are watching everything we do and say. Our fear is helping us raise a nation of young doubters. By now, 2008, we have a lot to be proud of but a long way to go."
"This race isn't about Barack or Hillary or McCain, it's about our future."
"We're the ones supposed to have the silver spoon in our mouths? [Gives quizzical look.] I don't get that either. See, that's how the bar keeps gettin' shifted."
"Young people look at me and say she must be different from me, and I say no!"
"Look at me and you see what an investment in public schools can be. Life has changed for regular working people. My father had M.S. He went from a man who can swim, box, was in the military to walking with a cane. He got up and went to work every day."
"We just paid off our student loans. You can't run for president and be in debt. (Laughter from crowd)."
"I'm here today because my 70 year old mother is home with my kids. You can't work and be steady in a profession without help. The economy breaks up families."
"I can go on, I haven't talked about health care or the environment but we know were we are. We know what we need to do. We know what we need to do about education."
"We have lost a sense of empathy. We have leadership who says 'you can go it on your own.'"
"The only people in the nation who sacrifice on a regular basis are the soldiers and their family."
"I want the President of the US to have some sense. A lot of that has to do with how you're raised."
"My father used to say, You judge an individual by what they do in the shadows and no one's watching. In the shadows are they living with honor, dignity and grace?"
"When you look for a mate, cute is good, but how do they live out their lives and put thought into action."
When you have little, you know when you're blessed. Tell me whether that sounds like there was a silver spoon or a bit of an elitist."
"Imagine a President of the United States who understands other cultures, and not because he received a briefing from a bunch of Washington insiders. Just imagine what it would be like to have some who lived there."
Both our grandparents have the same values-- different races. Truth: we were taught your word is your bond. We were taught you don't rip your opponent in to pieces because you never knew when you would need them."
"You tell me, is there anyone else in this race who made that choice -- corp lawyer or community activist? When you're given the gift of advocacy, you don't sell it to the highest bidder."
"Some say because Barack won't cut and slash his opponent that means he's not tough enough.
He will never take the easy road. Trust me. I've been beggin' him to take the easy road. He doesn't tell you what you wanna hear. You wanna know what he'll do? He wont sell you gimmicks like a gas tax holiday. Now that's tough."
AUDIENCE MEMBER: "Speak first lady!" The crowd cheers and stands.
"This requires work. The hardest thing is to put down our fear. Change is hard. I have grandparents who wont take the plastic off their furniture. You know. The plastic is cracking... I bet there's some folks here with plastic."
"We need you to show courage. We need you. Barack can't do this without you."
"I don't understand these folks who say we have so many choices. No we don't. We have only one choice."
"The last thing is a story I always tell. I met a 10 year old girl in Newberry, SC. I don't know her name. I keep telling the story so that someone will come up and say they know her. This little girl came up to me and said Mrs. Obama, I need to tell you something. Do you realize when your husband becomes the next President of the United States it will be historical. She was serious (chuckling). I asked what will that mean to you? And this little girl broke down in tears. I said this little girl gets it. She knows if her family gets sick they will have to sit in the ER for hours. Worker's job is hit or miss. They don't know what will happen. She's hoping we get this right. There's apart of that little girl in all of us. "
"No matter the outcome of this race, don't let anyone limit your dreams. I ask everyone to do a little dreaming. Envision the day when a man like Barack stands before the Capitol swearing in. Imagine what that would mean to kids around the world. The whole world is watching us. I ask you, can we do that?"
Crowd chants loudly "Yes we can! Yes we can! Yes we can!"