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Mrs. Obama at the DNC: 8 Best Moments

Michelle Obama (AFP/Getty Images)
Michelle Obama (AFP/Getty Images)

(The Root) — Though there is no official contest for first lady, that doesn't stop the media from covering the unofficial campaign for the role, with first lady Michelle Obama's Democratic National Convention speech last night in Charlotte, N.C., being framed as reply to Ann Romney's RNC address. Yet whether or not a spouse can seriously impact a candidate's chances for election remains a source of debate.


In 2008 Michelle Obama was an object of suspicion among many voters because of some high-profile communications stumbles on the campaign trail, yet her popular husband was elected anyway. Now, four years later, the roles are reversed, with the first lady's approval ratings consistently topping his.

How much of a difference that will make in November remains to be seen, but the Obama campaign is clearly hoping that the first lady's immense popularity will help toward a second term for her husband. This was evidenced by the scope of the convention speech she delivered, which not only focused on illuminating personal details of the Obama family to remind voters who they are but also delved into policy.


Below is a list of the top moments from the first lady's Democratic convention speech.

1. Her biographical video.

OK, so technically this wasn't part of the speech. But if the speech was the main event, the biographical video was the opening act, and what an opener it was. From the beautiful black-and-white official White House photographs to the video montage of the first lady jumping rope, dancing the Dougie with children and owning Jimmy Fallon in a potato-sack race, the video reminded us that we've never had a first lady as fun and relatable before.

2. Her shoutout to the president's glass ceiling-breaking grandma.

By paying tribute to President Obama's grandmother Madelyn Dunham and recalling the sexism and pay inequity she experienced, the first lady paid tribute to women fighting the good fight to break glass ceilings everywhere. Dunham's story of watching men she trained climb past her up the ladder is a story likely to resonate with some of the female voters the Romney campaign spent much of last week wooing, and who will likely decide this election.


3. Her arms.

Yes, this is shallow, but that doesn't mean it's not worth mentioning. Within minutes of the first lady taking the stage, Twitter was inundated with mentions of her envy-inducing arms. A quick sampling: "I'm having arm envy" —@frugalista; "Michelle is protecting our right to bare arms" —@Zoeythegreat; and perhaps my favorite, courtesy of New York Magazine political writer John Heilemann: "Check out them guns on FLOTUS" —@jheil.


Her sculpted arms have been such a source of fascination and admiration since her husband took office that they were even the subject of a New York Times op-ed. But perhaps the greatest testament to the importance of her "right to bare arms": Sleeveless dresses have become all the rage and are ubiquitous these days — on television, and even among attendees at last week's Republican National Convention. Tonight her arms made their official return to the campaign trail.

4. Confronting the class divide.

How to reference class inequality without coming across as an angry anti-one-percenter with an ax to grind has emerged as one of the greatest communications challenges for the Obama campaign this election season. Apparently the campaign finally figured out how to address that challenge: Michelle Obama.


The first lady's references to her and her husband's humble financial beginnings, including the lines that "Our student loan bills were higher than our mortgage" and "We were so young, so in love and so in debt" — combined with her repeated references to America being founded on the idea that those who work hard and make it have a responsibility to help others do the same — didn't sound like class warfare; they sounded like responsible patriotism. Also, by describing her husband's story as the embodiment of the American dream, she drew a stark contrast with Mrs. Romney's description of her family, one in which her father-in-law's story of rising from poverty to wealth may have epitomized the American dream, but not her husband's story of rising from wealth to greater wealth.

5. Her dress.

Though coverage of the first lady's fashion may strike some as superficial, her clothing choices have significant cultural and economic impact. There are few African-American designers who have thrived in the fashion world. Tonight the first lady showcased one who is succeeding, in no small part thanks to Mrs. Obama's prominent endorsement every time she wears one of Tracy Reese's dresses. Because the first lady positively glowed this evening, designer Reese will become known to millions of Americans who may not have been familiar with her before. Not only did the dress look great, but the first lady looked great in it and appeared to feel great in it, too. That confidence showed.


6. Her reminder that no, you didn't actually build it on your own. You had help.

"We built it" was the theme of the Republican National Convention and served as a rallying cry for conservatives suspicious that the Obama administration and the president himself are anti-small business. (The "We built it" theme was in response to a sound bite in which the president referred to the infrastructure and help that aids businesses by saying, "You didn't build that" on your own.) Throughout her speech, the first lady pointedly noted that any successful person, including her husband and herself, was aided by others along the way. As she said, "Teachers and janitors contributed to our success." The takeaway: If you are living the American dream, someone helped you build it.


7. Her candid discussion of her father's health woes.

By recounting her father's battle with multiple sclerosis, the first lady found a personal way to raise the elephant in the room: health care. She also reminded us that multiple sclerosis is a more prevalent ailment than coverage of the disease would suggest, having touched both the Obama and the Romney families. (Ann Romney is battling the disease.)


8. Her close.

The most memorable parts of any movie, book or speech are usually the beginning and the end. When the first lady choked up at the end of her convention speech while talking about her children, there were many who misted up along with her — surely including some who may not support her husband's policies, but who nevertheless felt a connection with the mom-in-chief tonight.


Keli Goff is The Root’s special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter

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