A good leader will make you believe that she can put herself in your shoes; a great leader makes you believe that you can put yourself in her shoes–by far the harder task, for it requires believing that she’s not leading an extraordinary life. Michelle Obama has that talent. She doesn’t just see the world from our point of view, she brings us to the realization that we see it from hers.
From the beginning of her convention speech on Tuesday, Michelle talked about the people she meets who inspire her–the same people who inspire us, now that she brings it to our attention. Teachers, firefighters, members of the military. Why, even we could be the source of her inspiration, or our neighbors, or the other parents we see every week at the kids’ soccer game.
She talked about love and how it grows. “We were so young, so in love, and so in debt,” she joked, referring to the burden of student loan debt that she and Barack started with. And while we don’t know when that struggle with debt ended, it’s important that she had it. We know that the love continued, that she loves her husband still, “even more than I did 23 years ago, when we first met,” because she sees how the struggle with his job has challenged him not to change so much as to rise to meet it. Just as her father had to do, battling with Multiple Sclerosis, but still making it to work every day. Just as most of us have seen our father encounter their own obstacles.
Michelle obviously loved her father, who defined being a man, being a success, as “being able to earn a decent living that allowed him to support his family.” Along the same vein, her husband, Barack, “is thinking about folks like my dad and like his grandmother. He’s thinking about the pride that comes from a hard day’s work.” Because Barack puts in a hard day’s work, too, every day, making decisions for which he bears ultimate responsibility but will affect the lives of so many others.
“In the end, for Barack, these issues aren’t political–they’re personal. Because Barack knows what it means when a family struggles. He knows what it means to want something more for your kids and grandkids.” Yes, we nod. Many days we all find ourselves dealing with the impossible, many days require partners to comfort one another.
“We were taught to value everyone’s contribution and treat everyone with respect.” We believe Michelle would value and respect us if she met us on the street. We’d treat her the same way, just like we saw with her and the military mom from Ohio, Elaine Brye, as they hugged onstage before Michelle’s speech.
We know, like she says about the President, that at the end of the day, “all you have to guide you are your values, and your vision and the life experiences that make you who you are.” Especially the life experiences. Our lives, too, are filled with and challenged by the ones we love. We want the best for all of them. Our grandparents, who “should be able to afford their medicine” and our kids, who “should be able to see a doctor when they’re sick” and our neighbors, who should never “go broke because of an accident or illness.” Michelle has had grandparents, kids, and neighbors, too.
We love Michelle because she recognizes that we are generous, and calls on us to show our nobility and grace. “When you’ve worked hard, and done well, and walked through that doorway of opportunity…you do not slam it shut behind you…you reach back, and you give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed.” We believe, like her husband, that “success isn’t about how much money you make, it’s about the difference you make in people’s lives.” We can see in her reassuring words that she gives us just as much respect as we give her, because that’s the way Michelle is. That’s the way we are.
Most importantly, we all believe we deserve the title of “mom-in-chief” or “dad-in-chief”, worrying about our children from their cradle until our grave. “My daughters are still the heart of my heart and the center of my world.” It is for them that Michelle and Barack rise to be the best they can be, just as we do for our children. The thought of her children’s future brought tears to Michelle’s eyes, and to ours. Because, yes, we want what Michelle wants: to give our children “that sense of limitless possibility.” And we’ll work right along beside her to pull the country together and move forward for their sake.
It won’t be easy, as Barack reminded her, and she reminds us. “We are playing a long game here…and that change is hard, and change is slow, and it never happens all at once. But eventually we get there, we always do.” But we know that. Life experiences have taught us that lesson. What’s important is that we undertake it together.
We believe in Michelle. She believes in us. We could all be friends if we met in the street. We’re all in this together.
Here’s the video of her convention speech, in case you missed it: