Michelle Obama will be a tough act for Cindy McCain to follow

The Democratic first lady candidate sets a high bar with an intelligent speech at the Democratic National Convention.
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The Democratic first lady candidate sets a high bar with an intelligent speech at the Democratic National Convention.

I don't know about you, but by the end of Monday night's Democratic National Convention coverage, I was ready to throttle the TV talking heads who kept getting between the proceedings and would-be viewers.

The two big events were not interrupted and were presented in full to viewers. They were the filmed tribute to Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy and Kennedy's speech and, then, the filmed biography of Michelle Obama's family and her speech.

Things moved slowly prior to the Kennedy primetime appearance — so slowly that many in the national audience no doubt went to entertainment programming. They moved slowly, in part, because we got only fragments and snippets of the ongoing convention program while TV anchors and panels obsessed about the Clintons, their states of mind, the states of mind of their supporters, and how and under what circumstance Sen. Hillary Clinton would stop a roll-call vote for the presidential nomination and ask the convention to nominate Sen. Barack Obama by acclimation.

Meantime, business was being done and speeches delivered on the convention floor.

Party conventions, now compressed in time and carefully stage-managed, serve two purposes for the political parties:

  • They introduce their presidential and vice-presidential nominees to the American people.
  • They stir up the partisan faithful for the fall election. (The overwhelming majority of both parties' convention viewers are partisans.)

Monday's opening session did a good job on both counts. It was necessary to reintroduce Michelle Obama to voters because, in the primary period, she made some verbal missteps, including her statement that she had never been proud of her country until her husband's presidential-campaign success. She pointedly stated Monday that she was proud of her country. Her film biography presented her as all-American daughter (and now mother) from a traditional family of Brady Bunch wholesomeness, headed by a loving father — in other words, she is neither an absent-father slum kid nor some semi-radical, uppity figure outside the middle-American mainstream. Her speech was well crafted and presented. She came across as a highly intelligent, poised person with a history of public service and fully capable of serving as first lady.

Cindy McCain, at the Republican convention, will face a real challenge in trying to match Michelle Obama's performance — in part because she is less educated and less articulate than Michelle Obama but also because her wealth, derived from a buccaneer beer-distributing father, and luxury lifestyle can be grating. Her family definitely was not the Brady Bunch.

The faithful were stirred by Kennedy's dramatic appearance. I heard last weekend from one of his former staff members that Kennedy had just completed regular chemotherapy sessions for his brain cancer, had weathered them well, and was bent on coming to Denver — against the advice of his family and doctors. At the time, it was thought he would not make the trip. But he did. He was taken in a wheelchair to the arena entrance but walked on his own to the podium and, then, astonished everyone with a forceful speech delivered in a strong voice. His promise to be in the Senate next January, to greet a President Obama, ignited the crowd.

Kennedy, in his remarks, did not attack President Bush or Republicans. Nor did Michelle Obama.Earlier speakers, who never made it to broadcast TV, did. But there will be many opportunities over the next three days for that to happen. The Kennedy appearance, of and by itself, was more than sufficient to stir Democrats in the hall and watching on TV.

Until the Kennedy and Michelle Obama appearances, the Monday convention dragged and was dull. But overall, it served the party's purpose and set the stage well for what is to come. Now, if we could only get those prattling TV commentators to stop thinking it is all about them.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Ted Van Dyk

Ted Van Dyk

Ted Van Dyk has been active in national policy and politics since 1961, serving in the White House and State Department and as policy director of several Democratic presidential campaigns. He is author of Heroes, Hacks and Fools and numerous essays in national publications. You can reach him in care of editor@crosscut.com.