CHARLOTTE — Pundits across the political spectrum have praised First Lady Michelle Obama’s speech to the Democratic convention for its smooth mix of personal revelations with a defense of her husband’s presidency. Before Mrs. Obama’s appearances, press reports suggested she would refrain from any attacks on Mitt Romney and Republicans. But as it turned out, that wasn’t the case: the First Lady was on the offensive for much of the speech, delivering a series of jabs — without ever mentioning Romney — to suggest that her husband’s Republican rival is the wrong man for the presidency.
Start with the way Romney would approach the job. “I’ve seen how the issues that come across a president’s desk are always the hard ones,” Mrs. Obama said, “the problems where no amount of data or numbers will get you to the right answer.” And who might the top “data guy” in the race be? That’s the way Romney describes himself, and, just for emphasis, it describes GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan as well.
Prior to Mrs. Obama’s appearance, several speakers emphasized Romney’s wealth. Romney, who made his own fortune, was also the privileged son of American Motors CEO and Michigan Gov. George Romney. Barack Obama, the First Lady said, came from nothing. “He was the guy whose proudest possession was a coffee table he’d found in a dumpster, and whose only pair of decent shoes was a half size too small,” Mrs. Obama said. To emphasize the contrast, she later added that “for Barack, success isn’t about how much money you make, it’s about the difference you make in people’s lives.”
At the Republican convention last week in Tampa, many speakers, including the candidates, accused Democrats of fostering envy, resentment, and class warfare. In Charlotte Tuesday night, Mrs. Obama directly rebutted that charge. “Like so many American families, our families weren’t asking for much,” she said. “They didn’t begrudge anyone else’s success or care that others had much more than they did — in fact, they admired it.” That statement was aimed directly at a key part of the Republican case against Barack Obama.
Finally, Democrat after Democrat has described Romney as a rich guy who only wants to help other rich guys. Mrs. Obama said that, too, without directing it specifically at Romney. “[Barack Obama] believes that when you’ve worked hard, and done well, and walked through that doorway of opportunity, you do not slam it shut behind you,” she said. “No, you reach back, and you give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed.” Does anyone doubt who that door-slammer was?
Perhaps the most striking part of the First Lady’s speech was her ability to deliver political jab after political jab while still convincing her listeners — and some critics — that she was speaking as the “mom-in-chief.”