09/27/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Michelle O is the New Jackie O

Less than 48 hours after the passing of the Olympic torch from Beijing to London, a political torch was passed at the Democratic National Convention in Denver. John F. Kennedy's legacy was formally handed over to Barack Obama. It helped that Caroline and her "Uncle Teddy" set the stage for this epic, transitional, and dramatic moment in American politics.

For nearly four decades, Democrats have anxiously waited for a Godot-like figure to inherit JFK's crown and lead them out of a political wilderness that became dominated by treacherous, win-at-all costs Republicans.

There were false messiahs along the way. But these Democratic presidents proved to have clay feet. Jimmy Carter, from Plains, Georgia, was too plain, too sanctimonious. For all of his bluster, brilliance, and brio, Bill Clinton became too unfashionably lecherous. (The one part of Kennedy's myth-drenched past that's also overlooked or curiously forgiven.)

Obama's background, mixed race, and bare-knuckled political pedigree from Chicago made him an unlikely candidate to occupy the Camelot throne. But as he demonstrated during an exhausting primary-season death match with Hillary Clinton, he constantly rose to the occasion with soaring rhetoric that instilled in his wide-eyed listeners an inspiring message of hope and promise of change. He outlined an optimistic future and dared us to embrace the challenge required to get there.

Would he have made it this far politically without the love and emotional support of his wife Michelle? Until Monday night, when millions saw and heard her speak for the time -- not just snippets from YouTube or sound-bite smears from FoxNews -- many were unsure what to make of her.

Was she an angry Angela Davis Sixties type? The alpha spouse in a marriage? A Rev. Jeremiah Wright acolyte whose loyalty to America was suspect? "Uppity" was used a lot to unfairly disparage her. Much silliness of ink and words were spilled about her fist-tapping salutation with Barack, as if that was code for subversion and otherness.

So what changed in the course of an hour? We did. And why does the media now see her so differently?

Poised, regal, elegant in her teal blue dress, she spoke to the gathered Democratic throng in Denver with a heartfelt eloquence and directness that left many in the convention hall in tears. It's hard to believe that she didn't have a powerful effect with many bitter Hillary supporters. How could they not embrace this formidable and successful woman?

There wasn't a single cringe-worthy moment the entire time she addressed the audience which melted like butter in her hands. She didn't need to raise her voice to a shrill-like Hillary pitch to emphasize valid points about her humble background as the daughter of a Chicago water plant employee. Her journey seemed as improbable as her husband's, and like his, it represents the fulfillment of the American dream which rewards hard-work, self-reliance, independence, and merit.

Despite her two Ivy League degrees and high-paying job in the health sector, she didn't project smug self-satisfaction or elitism. Even when she said, "I love this country!" you knew that these soothing words were voiced to defuse earlier damaging words from last spring, but you didn't feel that she was making them up. She does feel deep affection for America. Her father, after all, was a Democratic precinct caption. Her mother held a job as secretary at Spiegel's catalog store. You can't get more American than that.

When her two little girls joined her on stage to greet Dad on the big screen, the deal was closed. We knew what makes her tick -- her family. It gives her strength, and we drew strength listening to her discuss what it means to her.

By helping her husband make it to the White House, it won't be because she is a Machiavellian schemer or harbors some secret ambition to also become president one day. She will be a classy First Lady. We saw that in Denver. She will carve out her own special niche in our hearts and minds. Echoes of Jackie Kennedy's sense of style will be in full evidence with Michelle --in the way she dresses, in the way she carries herself in public, and in the way she will help define with her husband a new era in presidential politics.

I am looking forward to that day. And I am not alone in feeling this way.