• WisPolitics

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

 2:27 PM 

Analysis: America meets the Obamas

Chris Micklos
Red-meat Democrats who were waiting for an onslaught of tough rhetoric lobbed in John McCain's direction will have to wait until tonight for the nasty zingers and one-liners. And there's no doubt that they will come. Hillary Clinton will be coming to the podium in prime time, and it won't surprise anyone if she zeroes in on McCain.

But Monday night took a different tone, and it was an outstanding first step toward introducing the Obama family and their story to America.

The night started out rather shakily. Other than a moving tribute and surprise speech by Ted Kennedy that brought the convention hall to their feet (and many to tears), the night was starting to look like a bust until Michelle Obama's older brother introduced her to the convention. When she followed him to the podium, it marked a seminal moment in the campaign.

Until tonight, the Republican narrative on Obama has been to frame him as "the other." Whether that amounts to overt racism or simply the kind of mind-numbing political attack that Republicans excel at ("John Kerry is practically French, the bastard!"), it has clearly begun to take root. From the right-wing internet campaigns that have convinced many that he is a secret Muslim to the TV ads that frame him as a "celebrity" or "elitist", the Republicans have effectively begun to plant the seeds of doubt in voters' minds. Tonight, Michelle Obama fought back, and it was smart and effective politics.

In unfolding the fundamentally American story of the Obamas' childhoods and upbringing, Michelle struck at the heart of the Republican attack. It will be hard to make charges of elitism stick to a man raised by a single mother and his grandparents, who pushed aside a high-paying job at a powerful law firm to work in a gritty Chicago neighborhood. And how "different" can the Obama family be when their family looks so much like ours and shares our same fundamental American values.

It say a lot about the effectiveness of the Republican attack machine that Monday night was necessary, but Michelle Obama could not have been more effective than she was in battling back those creeping perceptions.

There were several moments of note that should resonate with voters:
  • The enthusiasm of Michelle's older brother and the obvious pride of her mother.
  • The cheesy-but-effective reference to "The Brady Bunch".
  • The story of how she met Barack.
  • The moving way that she spoke about her father.
  • The expression of core values inherent in the story of her family and Barack's.
  • The story of their struggle to succeed and stay grounded in their family.
  • That wonderful family moment at the end, with their daughters on stage and Barack on video from Kansas City.
For many voters, this is the first time they've heard these stories and seen this side of the Obama family, and it paints a dramatically different picture to what they have been hearing from the other side.

All told, it was a tremendous response to the GOP narrative that will allow the convention to now pivot and start hitting the issues much harder.

-- Micklos is partner and senior strategist at Visuality, a Madison-based media consulting firm. Contact him at chris@visuality.com.


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