One of the things about US politics that makes it so riveting, especially around election time, is the quality of the speeches and the debates. I have always been convinced about the power of words to inspire and rouse the spirit when used appropriately. I was discussing this with a friend yesterday afternoon, and Michelle Obama gave another demonstration of their impact.
I could have watched the first day of the Democratic National Convention, but I was denied the pleasure by the good people at DSTV. Even though I renewed my subscription before it expired, I was still cut off. It is an annoyance that will be resolved in a few hours, Insha Allah.
Since I couldn’t watch it, I resorted to monitoring the reaction to it on Twitter. As always, it was entertaining stuff. Lots of people talked about how much of a credit Michelle has been to her husband over the last four years, painting him in the best possible light, and how powerful the speech was. I saw people inspired by the narration of how she and the future US president went out for dates ‘in a car that was so rusted out, I could actually see the pavement going by through a hole in the passenger side door’. It was a speech about how they beat early hardships, first separately, then together. It was a speech about how, having beaten those challenges and ‘walked through that doorway of opportunity’ as she put it, their aim has been to uplift others, and not to ‘shut the door behind them’. The entire context was a veiled reference to Mitt Romney and the policies of the Republican Party, but she never mentioned either by name. It is as classy as it gets.
After reading the speech, one is left with many thoughts. It is clear that, just like Hilary Clinton, Michelle Obama is destined for greater things. The nature of that will not be clear for a while, but it does seem she will be in the national spotlight for a long time.
There is something about her and Barack that is the distillation of all that is the very best about the black race. At the same time, it is an unbelievably inspiring image and message that transcends race and nationality. Seeing both of them display such command of a stage, of words, and do it with such smoothness, without seeming to miss a beat, leaves a longing for that kind of ability however fleeting that longing might be.
The urge to compare them with other public figures is inevitable. Of course, there is an innate unfairness about such comparisons, but that really isn’t the point. It is a very human trait to make comparisons, to want to do better, to aspire for bigger and better things. This dissatisfaction is behind every human advancement. As individuals and a collective, Nigerians need some of that.
For years, Bill and Hillary Clinton were the ultimate power couple, the best example of how two people can play on the same high level, while sharing the same bed. Barack and Michelle Obama have followed this template and are arguably improving it. From their story, it is quite clear that they both recognised the potential in each other early on, made the necessary investments and decided for the long haul. Any single man or woman who aspires to something like that must be ready to make similar investments. There are no half measures.
In the end, her speech – which we are told she worked on for a month – was about sacrifice, commitment to family and society, and a life-long journey with an authentic and driven person who is going somewhere.
It is a message that resonates and hopefully, it lingers long after today.