Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Michelle Obama Not-so-sub-text

Okay, first let's give credit where credit is due: Sasha Obama stole the show. No disrespect to my own two daughters but there is no way I would have trusted either of them on such a big stage not to make a bathroom joke. Now, a couple of reactions to the speech.

First, I just think it's sad that the obvious point of the introductions by Michelle Obama's mother and brother, as well as her speech itself was to say: "Michelle Obama is not at all scary and has the same values as middle-class white people. And even more so for Barack Obama." Her brother even worked in that Michelle grew up watching the Brady Bunch, and much of Michelle's speech, with its emphasis on the virtue of hard work and the importance of family, could have been given by Ronald Reagan himself. It's not that we Democrats don't believe in these things, of course, but (with the exception of Ted Kennedy's speech, which was not shown live on the networks) the script for the evening seemed extremely defensive---all about portraying the Obamas as Ozzie and Harriet, or perhaps more accurately, the Huxtables with a slightly greater sense of public duty. I don't doubt that the politicos who are managing the convention have better political judgment than I, and so this sort of show was probably necessary, but I find that sad.

Second, and less important, am I the only lawyer who's getting a little tired of the demonization of law firm practice? We were told several times last night that law firm practice just wasn't for Barack or Michelle, who wanted to do more to help people directly. That's great, more power to them, but you know, there are quite a few law firm lawyers with substantial pro bono practices, many of whom also support Democratic candidates for office with some of the money they make from their paying clients. Here too I get the point. Americans hate lawyers and so a successful lawyer-candidate needs to show that he's a different kind of lawyer. (For my extended treatment of that issue, see this FindLaw column from January.)

It's possible that the emphasis on Obama's use of his law degree to serve the public interest rather than line his pockets is also meant to draw a contrast with McCain, who can now be portrayed as an out-of-touch rich guy with a house for each day of the week. Maybe this will work, and if so, it won't be nearly as unfair as some of the nonsense hurled at Obama by the right, but I tend to think it's a mistake. Yes, McCain is out of touch and his policy prescriptions are awful (as I and most Dems see them) but it's not plausible to think that he is a man whose driving impulse in life has been personal enrichment. It's ALSO not plausible to think that about Obama. It's just sad that the fact that he's a lawyer makes the campaign think that they have to make the case.

Bottom Line: Night One may well have been judged a success, but I thought it was quite defensive. Oh well, better defensive than offensive, I suppose, as the Republicans discovered in 1996.

Posted by Mike Dorf