Michelle Obama painted an intimate portrait of her marriage to President Barack Obama at the Democratic National Convention on Tuesday, saying he was the right man for America and remained “the same man I fell in love with all those years ago.”
Headlining the convention’s first night, the first lady said, “Barack knows the American dream because he's lived it, and he wants everyone in this country to have that same opportunity, no matter who we are, or where we're from, or what we look like, or who we love."
She recalled watching her husband “in those quiet moments late at night, hunched over his desk,” reading letters from people who said they were unable to pay their bills, or whose cancer treatment wasn’t covered by their insurer, or whose opportunities didn’t match their abilities.
“I see the concern in his eyes, and I hear the determination in his voice as he tells me, ‘You won't believe what these folks are going through, Michelle. It's not right. We've got to keep working to fix this. We've got so much more to do.’”
She did not mention Mitt Romney by name in her speech. Instead, she told her audience in Charlotte – and millions of people watching on television – the story of her life with the man who was raised by a single mother and became president.
Her story was repeatedly interrupted by wild applause from delegates at the Time Warner Cable Arena, and with chants of "Four more years."
Underlying her words was the message that Barack Obama - and the first lady herself - had endured the same kinds of struggles that ordinary Americans continue to face today: crippling student loans, a daunting mortgage, the anxiety of making a better life for their children.
Most important, she said, Obama had not lost the idealism or respect for hard work that was drilled in him by his mother and grandparents.
“For Barack, these issues aren’t political. They’re personal,” the first lady said. "Because Barack knows what it means when a family struggles."
Michelle Obama admitted to being ambivalent about life in the White House. She worried what the presidency would do to their life with their two daughters. She said she didn’t want to lose the man who once drove a rusted-out car and picked his coffee table from a dumpster or wore dress shoes that were too small.
“I loved the life we had built for our girls,” the first lady said. “I deeply loved the man I had built that life with. And I didn’t want that to change if he became president. I loved Barack just the way he was.”
She continued, “Well, today, after so many struggles and triumphs and moments that have tested my husband in ways I never could have imagined, I have seen firsthand that being president doesn’t change who you are. It reveals who you are.”
She cited as examples President Obama pushing to overhaul the health care system, and to pass a law protecting equal pay for women, and bailing out the auto industry.
"For Barack, success isn't about how much money you make, it's about the difference you make in people's lives," she said, drawing roars from the crowd.
Her husband, she said, "believes that 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.
“So when people ask me whether being in the White House has changed my husband, I can honestly say that when it comes to his character, and his convictions, and his heart, Barack Obama is still the same man I fell in love with all those years ago.”
The convention’s first night also featured many of the party’s heavyweights and up-and-comers: Newark Mayor Cory Booker, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, the keynote speaker.
Following the Democrats’ script for the three-day convention, Castro depicted the Romney-Ryan ticket as relying on old-fashioned economic theories that helped damage the economy.
Castro ridiculed the Republican platform, arguing its focused on cutting taxes to the richest Americans and slashing government services. That theme was reiterated all evening. Democratic speakers repeatedly described Romney, a wealthy former venture capitalist and Massachusetts governor, as out of touch with middle-class voters. And they talked of Obama as a man who had, in the words of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, “walked in our shoes.”
Reid, who has made an unsubstantiated allegation that Romney paid no taxes for years, did not repeat that charge Tuesday. Instead, he called Romney the proponent and beneficiary of "a rigged game” and continued his criticism of Romney’s refusal to release more tax returns.
“Trust comes from transparency, and Mitt Romney comes up short on both,” Reid said.
Booker, meanwhile, emphasized President Obama’s commitment to rebuilding the economy while being guided by ideals of fairness and justice. “Being asked to pay your fair share isn’t class warfare. It’s patriotism,” Booker said to raucous applause.
Another word that came up a lot on Tuesday night in Charlotte was "invest." Speaker after speaker tried to contrast Republicans' emphasis on cutting government spending with the Democrats' view of government as necessary to promote opportunity for people who need it. There was less talk about closing the federal deficit and more about government's obligation to invest in infrastructure, education and research.
Tuesday’s lineup also included a videotaped message from former President Jimmy Carter, and a video tribute to the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, who died a year after speaking at the 2008 convention.