Michelle Obama launches her husband's new narrative

McClatchy NewspapersAugust 25, 2008 

DENVER _ Michelle Obama introduced Barack Obama to a national audience Monday night as a loving husband and father and a dedicated public servant who shares the same values as other working-class Americans.

The wife of the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee was the closing act on the opening night of the Democratic National Convention, a moment designed to show the couple's softer side and to take control of a personal narrative that Obama’s Republican rival is trying to frame.

"I come here tonight as a sister, blessed with a brother who is my mentor, my protector and my lifelong friend," she told a prime-time television audience and conventioneers gathered in Denver. "I come here as a wife who loves my husband and believes he will be an extraordinary president."

After his wife spoke, a beaming Barack Obama told the Denver convention via video conference from a family’s home in Kansas City: "Now you know why I asked her out so many times, even though she said no. You want a persistent president."

In addressing the convention, Michelle Obama reprised her crucial role during the Democratic presidential primaries as deal closer. It was Michelle Obama who, early in the campaign, visited black beauty salons and black college campuses to tell skeptical African-American voters that her husband was “black enough” and seasoned enough to be president.

Monday night's appearance _ which included a biographical video featuring her mother and older brother _ was a high-stakes effort to counter Internet rumors and conservative talk-radio suggestions that Barack Obama isn't American or patriotic enough to be president and that she has some sort of hidden left-wing political agenda.

Her message to the country: We're just as American as you.

"Barack and I were raised with so many of the same values; that you work hard for what you want in life; that your word is your bond and you do what you say you’re going to do; that you treat people with dignity and respect, even if you don't know them, and even if you don't agree with them," she said. "And Barack and I set out to build lives guided by these values, and pass them on to the next generation."

She noted that this week commemorates the 88th anniversary of women winning the right to vote and the 45th anniversary of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.

"I stand here today at the crosscurrents of that history, knowing that my piece of the American dream is a blessing hard won by those who came before me," she said.

Polls indicate that Americans like Michelle Obama and Cindy McCain, the wife of presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain, but they also show that they don't know much about them.

Michelle Obama has been an active player in her husband's campaign, and foes of the Democratic soon-to-be nominee have tried to tag her as unpatriotic or angry.

Critics pounced on her last February when she told an audience that "for the first time in my adult lifetime I am really proud of my country."

A Fox News Channel video scroll referred to her as Obama's "baby mama" and a Fox commentator called a seemingly playful fist bump between Michelle and Barack Obama a "terrorist fist jab."

Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., a civil rights-era icon, said Michelle Obama's speech would help some Americans get comfortable with the idea of an African-American first lady.

"America has never (considered) the possibility of a young, smart black woman as first lady," said Lewis, who initially supported Sen. Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign before endorsing Obama.

A 44-year-old hospital executive and mother of two, Obama described herself as a daughter of Chicago's South Side, raised by a loving family in a one-bedroom apartment in a brick bungalow.

Her mother, Miriam Robinson, was a stay-at-home mom. Her father, Fraser, worked for the city's water department, despite combating multiple sclerosis. Both parents instilled in their two children a drive to succeed.

Michelle met Barack Obama in 1989 when the Chicago law firm she was working for assigned her to mentor the-then summer associate from Harvard. They were married three years later.

Michelle Obama is the vice president for community and external affairs for the University of Chicago Medical Center, though she's been on leave since January to help with her husband’s campaign.

"And in the end, after all that's happened in the past 19 months, the Barack Obama I know today is the same man I fell in love with 19 years ago," she said Monday night.

More from McClatchy:

Why Hillary lost? Study finds Americans prefer male leaders

Bad news for GOP? Fla.'s Hispanic voters no longer Cuban

McClatchy Newspapers 2008

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