Michelle Obama and Power of Words

chQuite often, the public resents the fact that politicians are all words and no actions. It is understandable since politicians have been historically infamous for having the two faces of Janus; one before the elections and one after the elections.

However, it is also true that the recent Democratic National Convention proved that words could indeed be used as a powerful torch of an idea, passing on the fire from a single mouth to the hearts of a thousand. As almost every single critic agreed, Michelle Obama gave a “pitch-perfect”[1] speech; it was powerful yet uplifting, signalling a clear break from the pessimistic and angry sentiments that the Republicans sought to fully exploit in the Republican National Convention.

Although I am no qualified speechwriter (nor a politician), as I read and heard Obama’s speech I noticed that there were some key aspects of the speech that made it so compelling. These are:

  1. Theme of Parenthood

Arguably, the main theme of Obama’s speech was the theme of parenthood. Obama gave recurring emphasis on the fact that the election was not about power politics and grand ideologies but rather about “who will have the power to shape our children for the next four or eight years of their lives.” Aware of the current antipathy of the general public towards the traditional idea of politicians, Obama instead moved the Democratic election campaign away from its usual image of a ‘dogfight’ between politicians; instead, she adopted the persona of a ‘parent,’ thereby making the election campaign a much more individual and private issue. Such approach was particularly effective because it aroused empathy among the public, a ‘softer’ quality that the Clinton campaign often lacked.

  1. Language of Hope and Morality

One of the things Obama successfully did in her speech was drawing a clear line separating the Republican campaign and the Democratic campaign. The key reason for success lay in the optimistic language she employed, a characteristic that was absent in the Republican campaign. The Democrat’s motto that she declared, “when they go low, we go high,” is the best example of how Obama used her language to assert the superiority of ‘hope’ that Democrats represent claims to represent compared to ‘fear and hatred’ that the Republicans allegedly sow in people’s minds.

Screen Shot 2016-07-30 at 3.44.40 PM.png

“When they go low, we go high.”

It is human instinct to want ‘hope’ to triumph over the ‘evil,’ or more accurately described as ‘negative emotions.’ Obama used this human nature effectively to depict the Democrats as those who are resilient against hardships, while effectively depicting the attacks from the Republican Party as the “hateful language…from public figures on TV.” She didn’t stop here, however; she went on to appeal for restoration of morality on a national scale by saying that such hatred “does not represent the true spirit of this country.” Thus, Obama completed her picture, portraying the Democrats as those who are resilient, moral and hopeful (i.e. the ‘heroes’ of the Hollywood movies) while portraying the Republicans as those who are “cruel” and “acts like a bully.” (i.e. the ‘villains’ of the Hollywood movies.) This way, without even once mentioning Trump’s name, Michelle Obama crafted a political election campaign into a traditional battle between the ‘good and evil.’

I am by no means a complete partisan for either Democratic Party or for Republican Party. However, it is difficult to ignore how some speakers are undeniably eloquent and more elegant in their portrayal of themselves. We need to remind ourselves that politics, albeit however difficult, must be kept as a place not where emotion prevails but where intellect and rational decisions dominate.


[1] NBC’s Brokaw “It was about as pitch-perfect an endorsement as you can get,” Fox News’ Juan Williams “The framing of the speech in terms of her children was so pitch-perfect.”

*Transcript of Michelle Obama’s 2016 Democratic National Convention speech provided by http://www.vox.com/2016/7/25/12282760/transcript-michelle-obama-dnc-speech

**Photo credit: Getty Images


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