I will never forget the first time I heard the name Michelle Obama. It was the winter of 2008. She was the wife of then Democratic presidential candidate Barack H. Obama, a man, who was the fairly unknown junior senator from Illinois with the funny name.
Michelle was making headlines back then because just before the Wisconsin primary that February of 2008, she remarked, “For the first time in my adult life, I am really proud of my country because it feels like hope is finally making a comeback.” She was making reference to how proud she was of people who were coming out to vote to support a man like her husband; an optimistic, young, Black man.
Almost immediately, Cindy McCain, wife of then GOP candidate John McCain, clapped back and told reporters, “I have and always will be proud of my country.” Her words unleashed a torrent of attacks from the right wing, and conservatives circles calling Michelle Obama “unpatriotic,” “angry” and worse. Conservatives like Cal Thomas, Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, and others were quick to label her an “angry Black woman” (sound familiar) and mocked her, debased her, said she was unfit to serve as the nation’s first lady. And the coup de grace was the infamous New Yorker Cover featuring the Obamas on the cover, fist bumping as Michelle sported a machine gun on her back. And so it began, the degrading, evolving definition of Michelle Obama from attorney, Harvard Law grad, Princeton undergrad, mother and wife to whatever awful thing they could think of next.
Fast forward 12 years from the 2008 Election to the opening night of the 2020 Democratic National Convention on August 17, 2020. Michelle Obama is no longer First Lady of the United States, but on this national platform as the keynote speaker on the first night of the DNC’s virtual broadcast, a new Michelle Obama has emerged. A free Michelle Obama. A truth telling, time to let “the Donald” have it, Michelle Obama. Her tone, while clear and compassionate, carries words that are dripping with disappointment in the current leadership of this country. She made it known that it was time to set the record straight about Donald Trump’s performance in the role of President, something she’s clearly has wanted to do since the day of his inauguration.
In her speech last night, Michelle said of Trump, “So let me be as honest and clear as I possibly can. Donald Trump is the wrong president for our country. He has had more than enough time to prove that he can do the job, but he is clearly in over his head. He cannot meet this moment. He simply cannot be who we need him to be for us. It is what it is.
“Now, I understand that my message won’t be heard by some people,” she continued, “We live in a nation that is deeply divided, and I am a Black woman speaking at the Democratic Convention. But enough of you know me by now. You know that I tell you exactly what I’m feeling. You know I hate politics. But you also know that I care about this nation. You know how much I care about all of our children.
“So if you take one thing from my words tonight, it is this: if you think things cannot possibly get worse, trust me, they can; and they will if we don’t make a change in this election. If we have any hope of ending this chaos, we have got to vote for Joe Biden like our lives depend on it.”
In her best-selling memoir, “Becoming,” she also wrote, “Donald Trump, with his loud and reckless innuendos, was putting my family’s safety at risk. And for this, I’d never forgive him.”
With the class and grace that was no doubt bestowed upon her by the steady influence of her dear mother, Marion Robinson, Obama explains herself with fierce grit and confidence that marks the 100th anniversary of the women’s vote and the 19th amendment this week. She let one of the most sexist, misogynist, xenophobic men in American history have it right, square on the jaw.
Tonight Michelle was not the first lady, but a powerful, strong, accomplished Black woman who is simply fed up. She knows Joe Biden well and spoke of his empathy, his character and his ability to create a plan that will lead us out of the pitfalls we currently find ourselves in. When Michelle Obama looked into the camera and told us exactly how she loves this country with “all of my heart” you could feel her sincerity and authenticity. She isn’t running for office and in fact made reference to the fact in her speech that she “hates politics,” but after all these years, America clearly still trusts her, likes her, and dare we say, even adores her, now more than ever.
Towards the end of her speech, Michelle remarks that she knows, first hand, how hard the job of being POTUS can be “It requires clear-headed judgment, a mastery of complex and competing issues, a devotion to facts and history, a moral compass, and an ability to listen—and an abiding belief that each of the 330,000,000 lives in this country has meaning and worth.”
Last night, the First Lady, who was once attacked for not loving her country enough, made it crystal clear just how much love she has for her country. She rallied our spirits, acknowledged our weariness and bewilderment and proceeded to then provide a simple yet effective call to action.
“Going high is the only thing that works, because when we go low, when we use those same tactics of degrading and dehumanizing others, we just become part of the ugly noise that’s drowning out everything else. We degrade ourselves. We degrade the very causes for which we fight,” said Michelle.
“But let’s be clear: going high does not mean putting on a smile and saying nice things when confronted by viciousness and cruelty. Going high means taking the harder path. It means scraping and clawing our way to that mountain top. Going high means standing fierce against hatred while remembering that we are one nation under God, and if we want to survive, we’ve got to find a way to live together and work together across our differences.
“And going high means unlocking the shackles of lies and mistrust with the only thing that can truly set us free: the cold hard truth.”
As Michelle said last night, it’s time to stop playing games with candidates who we know won’t win. For those who can, get on your good, soft shoes and head to the polls on November 3rd and for those who cannot, go ahead and request your mail-in ballots now and send them in early. Too much is at stake this year not to. Plus, Michelle Obama has spoken and I have a feeling most of America is willing to listen.
Sophia A. Nelson is an award-winning journalist and author of the award winning book, “Black Woman Redefined: Dispelling Myths and Discovering Fulfillment in the Age of Michelle Obama.”