Michelle Obama, classy and strong

01:19 - Source: CNN
Michelle Obama: America is greatest country on Earth

Editor’s Note: Issac Bailey has been a journalist in South Carolina for two decades and was most recently the primary columnist for The Sun News in Myrtle Beach. He was a 2014 Harvard University Nieman fellow. Follow him on Twitter: @ijbailey. The views expressed are his own.

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Issac Bailey: First lady, uplifting and stern, calmed a rhetorical war at first night of Democratic convention

He says she's remained classy, taken the high road; showed with her delivery she's unwilling to play games

CNN  — 

Michelle Obama at the Democratic National Convention on Monday night was akin to Whitney Houston at Super Bowl XXV in 1991 singing the national anthem. Houston’s performance was a balm during a very real, yet far off war. Michelle Obama, for her part, calmed the tension in a brewing rhetorical war in Philadelphia.

And only she could have done so.

Issac Bailey

Her delivery was pitch perfect, her words uplifting and stern, all at once. She’s the kind of speaker who gets it exactly right without seeming to try to.

The speech worked.

It worked particularly because it was Michelle Obama, a first lady who was pilloried by the right during the 2008 election cycle for expressing mixed emotions, shared by most African-Americans, about a country that made slaves build the White House and only allowed in families like hers – whose roots stretch to a plantation in South Carolina – to clean up the place. Certainly not to represent the world’s most powerful nation, even as it professed all were equal.

It worked because she stood tall during that campaign – and ever since – remaining classy and strong, even as critics attacked her Americanism, and her husband’s.

Don’t ever let anyone tell you that this country isn’t great, that somehow we need to make America great again, because right now this is the greatest country on Earth.

It worked because Michelle Obama has an edge that could have only been cultivated by living the life she has lived, one spent overcoming whatever barriers and slights have come her way to come out on top anyway. She was not born into wealth and privilege.

“How we insist that the hateful language [our daughters] hear from public figures on TV does not represent the true spirit of this country. How we explain that when someone is cruel or acts like a bully, you don’t stoop to their level. No, our motto is, ‘When they go low, we go high.’”

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It worked because Michelle Obama was there, and watched Hillary Clinton swallow her pride in 2008 and help Michelle’s husband become President after a bruising, sometimes dishonorable campaign fight.

It worked, frankly, because even the most animated Bernie Sanders supporters, who had been hooting and hollering all night, Monday night in Philadelphia knew there would have been a price to pay if they disrespected this particular first lady. They may have felt emboldened to boo through a prayer, shout “Lock her up” at the mention of Hillary Clinton’s name, as though they were in Cleveland, and even make noise during Elizabeth Warren’s speech.

Heck, they may even boo (a little) President Obama when he speaks later this week, because of his support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, they are that committed to their cause. But Michelle Obama is as beloved by Democrats as Laura Bush was adored by Republicans. To have undermined her would have been worse than the political suicide Ted Cruz committed last week. Her speech worked because she understood the importance of the moment and easily rose to meet it.

It is said that she has no designs on a future in politics. Maybe that’s why she was so effortless on stage. Because she knew she had no reason to play games, so she didn’t play any games at all.

And the crowd knew it.