Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Michelle says: It takes a family

Yes, that was the underlying message of Michelle Obama last night at the Democratic party's convention, to the delegates, staff, media, nation, and world: It takes a family to raise a child, and that family consisting of both a father and mother, and if it happens, cooperating siblings, all working on their own initiative, all dedicated to the task at hand, working diligently, loving totally.

I thought the tribute she paid to her dad was touching, how he worked at a "filtration plant"--by which I assume she means a water treatment plant, and how he continued to do so even after he was physically diminished by disease. He altered his routine, taking longer to get ready for work, so that he could continue to support his family, which he saw as his duty, so that his wife could be a stay-at-home mom. Michelle praised he mother for that, and seemed to feel having that mom at home was important to her upbringing.

The relationship between Michelle and her brother (didn't catch his name) also seemed important, based on their dovetailing testimonies. She influenced him to stay with coaching, and he influenced her to pursue public service as opposed to a Big Law partnership. Any parent would be proud to have such children, and feel that they had done something right in their raising.

Look at what was absent in Michelle's speech concerning the influences in her life: neighbors, neighborhood, extended family, government programs. She mentioned her neighborhood, the south side of Chicago, but did so in almost derogatory language. You got the sense that the neighborhood would have pulled her down if the family hadn't propelled her up. It appears, from Michelle's words, that the government had no influence at all, either positive or negative.

A last impression I got was the positive influence Michelle has on her husband and children. As stable and positive as her raising was, Barack's was turbulent: absent father, mother who seemed unstable, frequent moves, raised by a racist grandmother, experimentation with mind-altering drugs. Maybe Michelle helped her husband settle down and end the wild days of his youth. She is likely having that same influence on their daughters.

So, thank you Michelle, for that positive message, exactly what this nation needs to hear today, and echoing that of Bob Dole in 1996: To raise a child, it doesn't take a village; it takes a family.

By the way, Michelle, have you discussed this with Senator Clinton?


cntodd said...

Interesting. I think we must have heard different speeches then and I have to say I think you were a bit uncharitable to her. I just rewatched the speech just to be sure.

The speech focused on two things: 1) on values that she and Obama share, and 2) on having opportunity.

As for the first, the point, I take it, was to emphasize they both understand the struggle of hard-working Americans, a struggled she witnessed in her own family. And as for the second, the point seemed to be both to undercut her critics who claim she is not a proud American (as if that matters) as well as to emphasize that it takes opportunity in order to achieve your dreams or to succeed.

It was that very last bit that I thought to be the strongest point of the speech and it is a core Democratic belief (freedom without opportunity, after all, is a devil's gift).

Some of that opportunity came from the sacrifices made by her family, she said. But she also pointed to a lot of other things, including Obama's community organizing, after school programs, job training, and rebuilding economically devastated neighborhoods.

And after speaking about the civil rights movement and the right to vote for women, she said, "I stand here today at the crosscurrents of that history, knowing that my piece of the American dream is a blessing hard won by those who came before me."

So it would seem that I heard a different speech. Because the speech I heard suggests that opportunity doesn't come from your parents alone and not just from your own hard work, but from living in a society that is organized justly and fairly such that opportunity is available to everyone who wants it.

It would seem that it does in fact take a village.

David A. Todd said...


Thanks for coming by, reading, and posting. As Sitemeter shows, the Blogosphere can be a lonely world sometimes.

The village no doubt has a significant impact on anyone. Unfortunately, too many people blame the village for their own failures. The village didn't give them opportunity. The village taught their kids bad things. The village pulled them down. It was refreshing to hear someone emphasize that it was their family who had the greatest impact, and to not mention specifics of the village, or the village government.

Now, I'm not so naive to think Michelle doesn't embrace the Democratic party message of the last six or seven decades. I'm sure she does. I just don't believe her speech, crafted and delivered to answer her critics, as you pointed out, proclaimed that message. It is much closer to the Republican party's message. That's the point I was trying to make. And I stand by that point.

cntodd said...

But since when is valuing strong families the sole province of the Republican Party? Valuing the work that your parents did, their achievements and sacrifices, etc. is not a Republican trait. Its a human one. So I just don't see how you can get out of it that it was a "Republican message".

David A. Todd said...

My point is not that only Republicans see the value and influence of a family. Rather, I'm says the Democratic party is the party that normally insists you need a government (i.e. a village) to assist you with your life. You can't do it without the government's help is the underlying theme to every Democratic speech and program. Michelle's speech, due to what she was trying to accomplish, did not include that party line, and so unintentionally goes off message. On some blogs they are going so far as to call her a fraud because of it. I'm not will to do that. I do NOT think she was a fraud. In fact, I like her message.

cntodd said...

I still have to disagree. Talking about the role her family played in her life is not "going off message".

Nor do the Dem's think that "government does things best" or that you can't do anything without the government's help. That is a pretty shallow and distorted view of the party platform.

David A. Todd said...

Well, I wonder if we can agree on anything?

Would you agree that the Democratic party is more likely than the Republican party to propose government involvement (as opposed to private sector solutions) to the everyday problems of life? Things like adequate savings for retirement (i.e. social security proposed and enacted in the 1930s), rising health care costs, rising energy prices, fluctuating home prices, dampening the effects of normal economic cycles?

I'll grant you that Michelle Obama was not tasked with saying the Democrats would like the government more structured to help us cradle to grave--other did that in other speeches. But I still maintain that her speech de-emphasized the normal Democratic message of more government influence in our lives that it is almost ironic.