First Lady Stays Above The Fray In Convention Speech

First Lady Michelle Obama was one of the stars on the first night of the Democratic National Convention. She delivered a ringing, impassioned plea for the re-election of her husband, President Barack Obama.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And I'm David Greene.

The Democratic National Convention opened last night in Charlotte.

INSKEEP: Democrats offered blistering attacks on Mitt Romney and a vigorous defense of President Obama's record.

GREENE: There were appeals to women voters, Hispanics, young people, and military families.

INSKEEP: And there was an appeal to win over black people who voted for the president four years ago and have been disappointed since.

Here's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Republicans say the president can't run on his record and Mr. Obama even gave himself an incomplete on the economy when asked to grade himself in a television interview on Monday.

But last night there were no apologies or incompletes given at the Democratic Convention, where speaker after speaker offered a full-throated defense of the president's accomplishments.

The keynote speaker was Julian Castro, the 37-year-old mayor of San Antonio, Texas.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONVENTION SPEECH)

MAYOR JULIAN CASTRO: President Obama saved the auto industry and saved a million jobs.

Seven presidents before him - Republicans and Democrats - tried to expand health care to all Americans. President Obama got it done.

He made a historic investment to lift our nation's public schools and expanded Pell grants so that more young people can afford college. And because he knows that we don't have an ounce of talent to waste, the president took action to lift the shadow of deportation from a generation of young, law-abiding immigrants called Dreamers.

LIASSON: President Obama needs a huge turnout of Hispanic voters to win battleground states like Nevada, Colorado and Florida - and Castro was the perfect messenger, delivering an inspiring personal story and painting a portrait of Mitt Romney as clueless and out of touch. Romney just doesn't get it, Castro said.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONVENTION SPEECH)

CASTRO: A few months ago he visited a university in Ohio and gave students there a little entrepreneurial advice.

Start a business, he said. But how? Borrow money, if you have to, from your parents, he told them.

Gee, why didn't I think of that?

Some people are lucky enough to borrow money from their parents, but that shouldn't determine whether you can pursue your dreams. Not in America, not here, not in the 21st century. I don't think Governor Romney meant any harm. I think he's a good guy. He just has no idea how good he's had it.

LIASSON: Castro predicted Romney's economic plan would, quote, "dismantle the middle class." Other speakers were just as harsh.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONVENTION SPEECH)

NANCY KEENAN: Put simply: Women in America cannot trust Mitt Romney.

LIASSON: That's Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL, the abortion rights group. If Republicans were reluctant to talk about social issues at their convention last week, the Democrats had no such hesitation. It was clear they think that gay marriage and abortion are issues that will help fire up their base in an election where motivation counts for more than persuasion.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONVENTION SPEECH)

KEENAN: We believe that a woman considering an abortion should not be forced to have an ultrasound against her will.

We believe - we believe that rape is rape.

We believe - we believe that a woman should make health care decisions with her family, her doctor, and her god.

LIASSON: There were speakers from a list of targeted voting groups - young families who'd been helped by the Affordable Care Act, a mom who has four children in four different branches of the military. She thanked the Obamas for helping military families.

Congressional candidate Tammy Duckworth, who lost both legs in Iraq, attacked Romney for failing to mention U.S. troops fighting overseas in his convention speech.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONVENTION SPEECH)

TAMMY DUCKWORTH: Last week, Mitt Romney had a chance to show his support for the brave men and women he's seeking to command, but he chose to criticize President Obama instead of even uttering the word Afghanistan. Barack Obama will never ignore our troops, he will fight for them.

LIASSON: Former Ohio governor Ted Strickland gave a stem-winder of a speech, praising President Obama as someone who, quote, "knows our struggles." On the other hand, Strickland said...

(SOUNDBITE OF CONVENTION SPEECH)

TED STRICKLAND: Mitt Romney, he lives by a different code. To him, American workers are just numbers on a spread sheet. To him all profits are created equal, whether made on our shores or off.

LIASSON: Strickland, an ordained minister, was probably the first politician to attack Romney's overseas bank accounts while quoting the Bible.

STRICKLAND: Mitt has so little economic patriotism that even his money needs a passport. It summers on the beaches of the Cayman Islands and winters on the slopes of the Swiss Alps.

In Matthew - in Matthew Chapter Six, Verse 21, the Scriptures teach us that where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

LIASSON: The barrage of attacks on Romney stopped when first lady Michelle Obama came out on stage. She gave a powerful personal speech about the president.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONVENTION SPEECH)

MICHELLE OBAMA: 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. No, it reveals who you are.

LIASSON: Mrs. Obama never mentioned Mitt Romney's name, but the critique of Romney was implicit.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONVENTION SPEECH)

OBAMA: And I've seen how the issues that come across a president's desk are always the hard ones. You know, the problems where no amount of data or numbers will get you to the right answer. The judgment calls when the stakes are so high and there is no margin for error. And as president, you're going to get all kinds of advice from all kinds of people. But at the end of the day, when it comes time to make that decision as president, all you have to guide you are your values and your vision and the life experiences that make you who you are.

LIASSON: Mrs. Obama is more popular than her husband. Her work on non-controversial issues like nutrition, obesity and military families have kept her above the political fray and given her a standing the campaign hopes she can transfer to the president. And last night she connected Mr. Obama's personal story to the argument for giving him a second term.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONVENTION SPEECH)

OBAMA: Barack knows what it means when a family struggles. He knows what it means to want something more for your kids and grandkids. Barack knows the American dream because he's lived it. And he wants everyone in this country, everyone, to have the same opportunity no matter who we are or where we're from or what we look like or who we love.

LIASSON: Mrs. Obama wove the lessons she said she and the president had learned from their parents into a veiled rejoinder to last week's Republican attacks.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONVENTION SPEECH)

OBAMA: We learned about dignity and decency, that how hard you work matters more than how much you make, that helping others means more than just getting ahead yourself. We learned about honesty and integrity, that the truth matters, that you don't take shortcuts or play by your own set of rules. And success doesn't count unless you earn it fair and square.

LIASSON: Mrs. Obama's speech was a good example of the benefits of holding your convention after the other party. The Democrats will continue having the last word tonight when another powerful validator speaks for Mr. Obama - former President Bill Clinton. Mara Liasson, NPR News, Charlotte.

INSKEEP: Now, President Obama is expected to speak on Thursday, formally accepting another nomination for the White House. That speech was to take place outdoors in a football stadium before a crowd of more than 70,000, but we're told the possibility of severe weather has forced a change of plans. The president will now speak indoors to a much smaller audience, in the same arena where his wife spoke on Tuesday night. It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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