Why Michelle Obama resonates with America

Opinion

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First lady Michelle Obama speaks on stage during day one of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 4, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

First lady Michelle Obama speaks on stage during day one of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 4, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Michelle Obama’s speech on the opening night of the Democratic convention was a seminal moment in her time as first lady, but it was not the first time the wife of the first black president of the United States proved why she is such an asset to him.

Mrs. Obama is in many respects the idyllic modern first lady — smart and accomplished in her own right (before he became a United States Senator, Michelle made more money than her husband), but with an easy glamor that pops off the small screen. (I’m sure news anchors across America never thought they’d be wearing sleeveless, but thanks to Michelle, it’s a fashion staple for women of all ages.)

For black women in particular, Mrs. Obama is an object of particular pride; someone you never dreamed you’d see living in the White House, but who makes it look so effortless, you wonder why it took so long. Still, her fundamental appeal goes well beyond race. As one approving viewer stated on Twitter after the speech: “I want to go hang out with the Obama’s [sic] at their house and play Scrabble!”

And therein lies Michelle Obama’s secret: that while filling the ceremonial role of first lady, and the confidante of the nation’s commander in chief, she manages to also be the prototypical woman next door. No matter what the age, race or political affect of the listener, hearing Michelle Obama is like listening to a sister, a friend, a coworker, or a fellow mom at the PTA. She just sounds like someone you know.

When she says that before Barack Obama ran for president, “while I believed deeply in my husband’s vision for this country…and I was certain he would make an extraordinary President…like any mother, I was worried about what it would mean for our girls if he got that chance,” you empathize with the Obamas’ sense of awe at the undertaking they took together in 2008. As more than one person sitting near me in the arena as she gave her speech Tuesday night said: “I still get goosebumps thinking that someone so much like me is in the White House.”

Because she is both extraordinary and accessible, Michelle Obama is in many ways to the White House what Princess Diana was to the House of Windsor. The hoola-hooping with kids for her “Let’s Move” initiative; the appearances on Nickelodeon; her touching outreach to military families along with Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden; the gardening and her insistence that Sasha and Malia Obama make their own beds — and of course, the hugging, which has become Mrs. Obama’s signature — all make her very literally the “people’s first lady.”

Even those who dislike President Obama and his policies often point to the first family as personally admirable. When Michelle Obama spoke Tuesday night of her early days with her husband, when they were “so in love, but so broke,” most Americans can relate.