Opinion: Michelle Obama’s convention speech as dull as the others

Tyler Kieslich

Tyler Kieslich

Tyler Kieslich is a sophomore news major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].

I can always tell when something culturally significant is happening because everyone I sort of remember from high school all post Facebook statuses about the same thing. Sure enough, Michelle Obama’s Tuesday night speech at the Democratic National Convention blew up my news feed.

Sometimes I think the vaguely fashionable cynical detachment I’ve acquired since first discovering Howard Zinn has left me unable to feel anything but resentment and distrust for elected officials. Our political system leaves little room for things like honesty or sincerity, so when a politician or a politician’s wife attempts to assure me of their honesty and sincerity, it’s difficult to sip the Kool-Aid.

Tuesday night’s speech left me feeling no different. I watched Michelle Obama speak. I agreed with most of her basic political statements. I felt nothing.

The pageantry and high-production values of political conventions are nothing if not alienating. What gets lost in all the pomp and circumstance of the moment is any memory of the sincerity the candidates are trying to assure everyone they have. Speeches are designed to elicit specific responses from certain important voter groups, not make accurate assessments about anything relevant.

Bringing on the wife as a character witness – as if the American public are not voters, but jurors to decide who to convict of being more presidential – is supposed to reveal a more human side of her other half and also appeal somehow to female voters. Because, you know, she’s a woman too.

Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan pointed out that Michelle Obama’s stuttering throughout her speech was less a verbal tic and more a calculated attempt to appear more folksy and relatable. Michelle Obama does not stutter in real life – only when her husband needs her to.

The media as a whole sort of freaked out about the speech. John Cassidy of The New Yorker said that Michelle established herself as a “major political player,” and The New York Times called the speech “rousing.” It really wasn’t. It might have been more eloquent than that of her Republican counterpart, but it didn’t have any nobler intentions. Mostly it just said the same thing to a different group of people: We’re right and they’re wrong.

The realist in me says that I can’t expect anything but contrived rhetoric from people when they are thrust into a system that demands contrived rhetoric from them.

If Michelle Obama stood there and gave an accurate assessment of her husband’s performance as President – “Hey, I know he said he’d close Guantanamo, but …”; “OK, so the drone strikes on innocent people are bad, I get that …”; “Right, so I know he said he wouldn’t pursue legal action against medical marijuana growers, and then turned out to have the most aggressive anti-marijuana administration in history, but at least he saved the banks, right?” – it would be tantamount to political suicide.

But that’s the problem. Honesty isn’t valued in a political culture that demands rallying cries and fist pumps. So if we are going to criticize the other side for engaging in cheap tricks and insincerity, we have to be honest with ourselves when our side does it too.