Amid the cacophony of allegations, name-calling and visceral speeches in the United States presidential election campaign, a voice stands out — that of First Lady Michelle Obama.
While she began as a reluctant participant in the high-pitched campaign, she has now emerged as the passionate, and arguably the most effective, campaigner of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
Ever since the Democratic National Convention in July, where she expressed concern over what America’s children would learn from Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s campaign speeches, the outgoing First Lady is being viewed as one of the most effective defenders of her party’s vision.
“There just isn’t anyone more effective than her,” Jennifer Palmieri, Hillary Clinton’s communication director was quoted as saying in The Washington Post.
Democratic campaign leaders say Michelle’s credibility and the conviction with which she makes her attack on Trump are an asset to Clinton’s campaign, especially in “deep-red” states (strongly Republican) like Arizona.
Some voters even consider Michelle a stronger and more passionate speaker than President Barack Obama. “I felt that her speeches were much more inspiring and from the heart than her husband’s speeches,” said a voter in Fairfax, who admitted she was a Republican voter, except “this time”.
Earlier this month, soon after the video clips of Trump making lewd remarks about women became public, Michelle said his comments had “shaken me to my core”. She reminded Americans: “This was not just a lewd conversation. This wasn’t locker room banter. This was a powerful individual speaking freely and openly about sexually predatory behaviour.”
Speaking in Phoenix on October 20, Michelle said Trump divided America into “us” and “them”. She urged Americans to disregard Trump’s vision, saying he lives in a bubble and was never exposed to people who are struggling.
“It’s easy to dehumanise ‘them’. To treat ‘them’ with contempt… Because you don’t know ‘them’. You can’t even see ‘them’. And maybe that’s why this candidate thinks certain immigrants are criminals instead of folks who work their fingers to the bone to give their kids a better life, to help build the greatest nation on Earth. Because he doesn’t really know ‘them’,” she said.
She said Trump was trying to get the voters to stay at home by raising charges of a rigged election. “They are trying to convince you that your vote doesn’t matter. The outcome has already been determined and you shouldn’t be bothered about making your voice heard. They are trying to take away your hope,” she said, addressing a crowd of thousands.
She called on Americans to protect the greatness of their country. “Do not let yourself get tired or frustrated or disgusted by everything you have seen in this campaign. Please be encouraged,” she said.
“I have travelled the world, and I am telling you, we still live in the greatest country on earth. We have every reason to be hopeful. Remember that in difficult times, we don’t give up. We don’t discard our highest ideals. No, we rise up to meet them. We rise up to perfect our union. That is the power of hope,” she said.
Michelle’s powerful speeches have prompted many political observers to label her as a “rock star” who can “fire up the crowds” and Hillary Clinton’s “stellar power”. They point out she has been a role model for African American women and families across the country.
According to poll data, over half the Americans have consistently viewed her favourably, and her appeal goes beyond demographic boundaries. There have been reports quoting former senior advisor to President Obama, David Axelrod, as saying he would bet everything that Michelle would not seek public office like Hillary.
Interestingly, the Obamas and Clintons did not always enjoy the best of relationships, and it got worse during the 2008 primary campaign. “That makes her current speeches more effective. People feel that she speaks with conviction as she just does not want Trump to happen to America,” said Julian Burke, a resident of Washington DC.
Making a strong case for “our friend Hillary”, Michelle said she offered a vision for America. “Hillary knows that our country is powerful and vibrant and strong. Big enough to have a place for all of us, and that each of us is a precious part of the great American story,” she said. “Hillary has specific policies to help people. Her opponent has tweets,” she said.