Let’s talk about love.
Though not a common word to hear in political oration, both First Lady Michelle Obama and Ann Romney were lacing their speeches with it unabashedly at their respective National Conventions this past week. Both women told the stories of falling in love with their husbands in narratives crafted for their largest demographics. Michelle’s story about the young Obamas featured a car “so rusted out I could actually see the pavement going by through a hole in the passenger side door.” Her story was of an ambitious, liberal couple, raised by parents with next-to-nothing to contribute financially to their education but everything in the way of “dignity, decency, honesty and integrity.” The financing of college educations for young Americans has already become one of the biggest footholds for President Obama’s re-election campaign, and Michelle doesn’t let the opportunity pass: “When we were first married, our combined monthly student loan bill was actually higher than our mortgage. We were so young, so in love – and so in debt.” It’s hard not to believe her when she looks you dead in the eye and says, “In the end, these issues aren’t political – they’re personal.” Given, I am 18 and studying at one of the best universities in the world thanks to state funding, student loans, and hard-working parents - this part of the speech was designed for me.
Ann’s love story is every bit as endearing, but it is for our sock-hopping, God-fearing, met-in-High-School parents and grandparents. Ann and Mitt met at a High School dance and were married with a child by age 22. Ann reminisces about the town in which they grew up and fell in love saying, “Inside the houses that lined the streets of our town, there were a lot of good fathers teaching their sons and daughters.” She credits this upbringing for Mitt’s commitment to “a set of values centered on family, faith and love of one’s fellow man.” And with visions of Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed dancing in their heads, the crowd stood and cheered. This is the highlight of Ann’s speech, successfully humanizing Mr. Romney and bringing America into their personal life for the first time.
However, continuing with the love, perhaps the most awkward line of the RNC was Ann Romney’s Tourette’s outburst of “I love you, women!” Calm down Sister, we barely know each other. And what I do know about you, I simply cannot understand.
Having the financial stability that allows for only one spouse to have to work hardly makes anyone a criminal. And I hope that we all have more faith in the modern feminist than to believe that this is why they can’t stand her. Listening to Mrs. Romney shout about how she loves women did nothing to disguise the caveat of: but only if you are heterosexual, only if you never make the decision to have an abortion, only if you are not poor, only if you get married and have children and in that order. To borrow a phrase from the First Lady, these issues are not political. They are very, very personal.
For this reason, I wonder at the wisdom of Ann’s choice to dedicate the bulk of her speech to an appeal to American mothers. Why rally to your side the exact people that have expressed the most disdain for you? Gordon Stewart, former speech writer for President Carter said on CNN on Wednesday “if Barack Obama is re-elected on November 6, he will owe more to his first lady than any president ever to win a second term.” And though it certainly matters that her speech is written at a college reading level (12.84 on the Flesch-Kincaid scale, the Convention record), that she by-passed Mrs. Romney’s decision to dress like it was 1987 and that she stayed significantly cooler under the spotlight, it is really because her speech was overarching: to “hardworking” Americans, to “Democrat(s), Republican(s) or none of the above,” it reminded us that “we all love our country.” It is because she isn’t trying to win anyone over but she isn’t trying to leave anyone out. Michelle doesn’t apologize – gay marriage, health care, unemployment, reproductive rights: all presented unflinchingly.
She tells us, “No matter who we are, or where we’re from, or what we look like, or who we love… There is always something better out there if you are willing to work for it.” And that is something worth listening to. Tuesday night, Mrs. Obama stepped up to become the one to remind us - our nation’s future is not a game or a war or something to be owned by only one half of us or the other because our issues are not political, they are personal.