Donald Trump seems vastly more interested in punditry than public policy, so as he watched the first night of the Democratic National Convention last night, the Republican nominee, he did what lazy commentators do: Trump made snide remarks about the various Democrats determined to defeat him.
The GOP candidate did not, however, have anything to say about Michelle Obama, perhaps because she never mentioned him by name. The irony, however, is rich: no speaker in Philadelphia offered a more powerful indictment against Trump than the First Lady.
First Lady Michelle Obama gave a rousing and emotional appeal to Democrats on the opening night of their nominating convention by laying out the choice in November in stark terms: Who do you want to mold the next generation?"I am here tonight because in this election there is only one person who I trust with that responsibility," Obama said. "There is only one person who is truly qualified to be president of the United States, and that is our friend Hillary Clinton."
The New York Times' Gail Collins, capturing the sentiment of many, noted overnight, "O.K., Michelle Obama stole the show."
Put it this way: the First Lady's remarks were so strikingly good, the New York Daily News felt compelled to throw out its original plan for the paper's front page -- which was going to focus on tantrums thrown by Bernie Sanders backers -- and replace it with a new front page celebrating Michelle Obama's emotional address. "The Lady Is Her Champ," the final headline read, adding, "Michelle's speech brings down house."
To understand why, it's worth revisiting, of all things, a recent television commercial.
In what was arguably the most memorable campaign ad of the election season to date, Hillary Clinton's campaign recently unveiled a spot featuring young kids watching television, seeing Trump delivering offensive and vulgar comments. The name of the ad, "Role Models," captured the point of the brutal message: Trump is such a public embarrassment, it's not enough to say you wouldn't want your kids to turn out like him. It's also true that you're tempted to cover your children's ears whenever the guy opens his mouth.
This came to mind watching the First Lady talk about the lessons she and the president try to instill in their daughters.
"How we urge them to ignore those who question their father's citizenship or faith. How we insist that this hateful language they hear form public figures on TV does not represent the true spirit of this country. How we explain that when someone is cruel or acts like a bully you don't stoop to their level. No, our moto is: when they go low, we go high."With every word we utter, with every action we take, we know our kids are watching us. We, as parents, are the most important role models. And let me tell you, Barack and I take that same approach to our jobs as President and First Lady, because we know that our words and actions matter. Not just to our girls, but to children all across this country. Kids who tell us, 'I saw you on TV. I wrote a report on you for school.'"Kids like the little black boy who looked up at my husband, his eyes wide with hope, and he wondered: is my hair like yours? And make no mistake about it, this November when we go to the polls: that is what we're deciding. Not Democrat or Republican, not left or right. No, in this election and every election, is about who will have the power to shape our children for the next four or eight years of their lives."
It's powerful in its own right, but it's especially compelling when making an implicit case against the Republican nominee. Would even the most knee-jerk partisan seriously argue that Donald J. Trump is a leader young people should emulate?
Going further, Michelle Obama didn't just rebuke Trump's "Make America Great Again" slogan; she explained why he has it backwards.
"....Leaders like Hillary Clinton who has the grace to keep coming back and putting those cracks in that highest and hardest glass ceiling until she finally breaks through, lifting all of us along with her."That is the story of this country. the story that has brought me to this stage tonight. The stories of generations of people who felt the lash of bondage, the shame of servitude, the sting of segregation, but who kept on striving and hoping and doing what needed to be done, so that today, I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves."And I watched my daughters. two beautiful intelligent black young women playing with their dogs on the White House lawn and because of Hillary Clinton my daughters and all our sons and daughters now take for granted that a woman can be president of the United States."Don't let anyone ever tell you that this country isn't great, that somehow we need to make it great again, because this right now is the greatest country on earth."
It was a speech with the kind of emotional pull rarely heard.
There's been a fair amount of discussion about the strength of the Democrats' roster of national figures, each of whom will make compelling surrogates for Hillary Clinton in the fall. The candidate and her running mate will no doubt benefit from having Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, and perhaps even Bernie Sanders working crowds nationwide.
But let's not forget that the Democratic ticket's most effective advocate might very well be the First Lady of the United States.