“When they go low, we go high.”
It has become a catchphrase of the Clinton campaign. A reference to the overwhelmingly offensive rhetoric popularized by the Trump campaign, these words were coined not by Hillary Clinton herself, but by Michelle Obama. Over the past few weeks, Obama has become one of Clinton’s most valuable assets along the campaign trail, delivering powerful speeches and stirring the hearts of listeners.
While Clinton has been criticized as “robotic” and “unlikeable,” she is an undeniably effective politician. When it comes to stumping in support of her presidential run then, the ideal speaker is someone warm and caring, a speaker who connects well with a crowd. Campaigners need to do for the Democratic Party what Hillary Clinton often cannot: rally young voters and increase overall turnout.
Though the likes of Tim Kaine and Joe Biden have made efforts to fill the role as Clinton’s “surrogate,” Michelle Obama’s oratory abilities have shone bright in several recent speeches, making her the most effective person to get the job done. Not only does she have a unique stage presence, but she delivers her message clearly and compellingly. It doesn’t hurt that her favorability ratings are among the highest of any first lady. An August poll found that 64% of Americans hold “favorable” opinions of the First Lady, making her a popular and captivating personality on the campaign trail.
Michelle Obama holds special status in that she is relatively apolitical. This is typical of the first lady position. First ladies are expected to focus the extent of their political efforts on one area, usually keeping to “education” like Laura Bush or “drug prevention” like Nancy Reagan. Obama has focused the majority of her efforts on eliminating childhood obesity, but she has redefined the role of the First Lady by influencing policy in several realms. Though she is Democrat, Americans see her as above the squalor of Washington; her presence feels authentic and compassionate.
Her involvement in the campaign process is uncharacteristic of first ladies, but perhaps for this reason it is all the more compelling. Obama is influential in this election in a manner that is rare for presidential spouses, in that she is more than the ideal wife and mother. Over the course of her husband’s administration, she has proven herself to be an intelligent, genuine, and proactive political leader. She finds the perfect balance in her political dealings: she is not pushy nor unlikeable, instead, she is a warm and efficient advocate for the causes she chooses to put her name behind. Though she does not seem to relish her fame, she is able to use it strategically when it comes to making a true political difference. Voters and audiences alike respect this authenticity and connect deeply with Obama’s moving aura.
As we close in on election day, we can expect to see a growing number of Michelle Obama appearances on the campaign trail. In her speech last Thursday, a response to the leaked Donald Trump admissions of sexual assault, she was visibly perturbed. It is clear to viewers that she does not necessarily want to be campaigning, but rather, feels deeply called to do so. Perhaps this passion- this recognition of the gravity of the current political climate- will be the catalyst for Obama’s increased condemnation of Trump over the next few weeks. Whatever the reason, Obama has been heightening her visibility and striking a chord with American voters. Her rhetoric, both last Thursday and in her famed DNC speech, has garnered attention and esteem as the two best speeches of the election season. It will be in the best interest of the Clinton campaign, and of Democrats running down-ticket across the country to feed off of the energy that Michelle Obama emits.
Though she has repeatedly over the course of the past eight years attested that she would never run for office, one can’t help but imagine a world in which she would. Reporters and politicians alike have been speculating that there might be a campaign of her own in Obama’s future, and it doesn’t sound like such a bad idea. Obama is an ideal politician both in her charisma and even temperament and in her grand vision for progress and equality.
Obama is valuable in her ability to connect to women, to everyday people, to those across the spectrum of the American experience. Her greatest strength is her authenticity and her manner of conveying emotion. She makes politics personal, and in doing so, makes politics relatable.
“I know it’s a campaign, but this isn’t about politics. It’s about basic human decency. It’s about right and wrong,” she said last Thursday. “Are you all with me? You ready to roll up your sleeves? Get to work knocking on doors?” Suffice it to say that the audience answered her call.