Wednesday, September 5, 2012

4 Reasons Why Michelle Obama's Democratic National Convention Speech Rocked My Treadmill


There were certainly more than four "wow" moments, but while I watched U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama's September 4 speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, from the discomfort of my own treadmill (well, Anantara's) in Bangkok, that's how many really moved me -- and kept me moving. I added an extra five minutes just to hear all of it! 

1. She hasn't forgotten where they came from: "I loved Barack just the way he was. You see, even back then, when Barack was a senator and a Presidential candidate, to me, he was still the guy who picked me up for our dates in a car that was so rusted out I could actually see the pavement going by in a hole in the passenger-side door. He was the guy whose proudest possession was a coffee table he found in a dumpster... and whose only pair of decent shoes was a half-size too small."

2. She stands by her man -- and her gender: "And he believes that women are more than capable of making our own choices about our bodies and our health care. That's what my husband stands for."

3. She knows firsthand that the American Dream is reality: "So in the end, for Barack, these issues aren't political. They're personal. Because Barack knows what it means when a family struggles. He knows what it means to want something more for your kids and grandkids. Barack knows the American dream because he's lived it. And he wants everyone in this country, everyone, to have the same opportunity no matter who we are or where we're from or what we look like or who we love. And he believes that when you've worked hard and done well and walk through that doorway of opportunity, you do not slam it shut behind you. No, you reach back, and you give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed."

4. She believes in real, not conditional, equality: "If immigrants could leave behind everything they knew for a better life on our shores, if women could be dragged to jail for seeking the vote, if a generation could defeat a Depression and define greatness for all time, if a young preacher could lift us to the mountaintop with his righteous dream, and if proud Americans can be who they are and boldly stand at the altar with who they love, then surely we can give everyone in this country a fair chance at that great American dream. Because in the end, more than anything else, that is the story of this country, the story of unwavering hope grounded in unyielding struggle. That is what has made my story and Barack's story and so many other American stories possible."

Can she get an "Amen!"?

As an American, I appreciated the First Lady's address because it wasn't all about her husband. It's not all about her husband. It's about being human first. It's about the good of the country, and the ordinary people who make up its populace. Her speech didn't shortchange those priorities. I enjoyed her personal anecdotes, her humanity, her realness. It didn't feel like canned rhetoric intended to win over a certain electoral demographic, just a woman speaking her truth, which is the truth of so many of us.

As a gay man who has absolutely no burning desire to ever stand at an altar with anyone, I'm comforted in knowing that we have a First Lady who believes in my right to do so should I exercise a gay man's prerogative to change his mind. And she was brave enough not to play semantic games. She just came right out and said it. (See No. 4 above.)

As a writer who would rather read a good book than listen to a political speech, I generally am more moved by the written word than the spoken one. But somewhere around the 21-minute mark of Mrs. Obama's comments, as I walked uphill at 8.5 mph on the treadmill while watching her on Fox News (of all channels!), I actually started clapping. Everyone looked at me as if I'd lost it, and I was happy to admit that I had. If I hadn't already been on my feet, I would have joined the standing ovation.

As a reporting intern some 21 years ago, I spent the summer working at the Charlotte Observer. It was one of the most valuable experiences of my professional life, but when I left for New York City (and People magazine) at the beginning of August, I had no desire ever to step foot in North Carolina ever again. Today, though, I found myself secretly wishing I could retrace my steps and end up right back where I started.

As a proud American (yes, proud -- regardless of where I'm living, the United States will always be home), I have this to say: Anne Romney, I hope you were listening. This is how you effectively merge the personal with the political. This is how you deliver a speech with actual content. This is how you help your husband win the U.S. Presidential election.

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