Michelle Obama: Family Is Focus Of Denver Speech Michelle Obama delivers the keynote speech on the first day of the Democratic convention. She'll focus on the story of her husband, Barack Obama, and their family. "I want people to understand who we are as a family, what our values are," she tells NPR.
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Michelle Obama: Family Is Focus Of Denver Speech

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Michelle Obama: Family Is Focus Of Denver Speech

Michelle Obama: Family Is Focus Of Denver Speech

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.


I'm Melissa Block.

And so it begins. Democrats are gathered in Denver to open the party's National Convention. The Pepsi Center is filling up with delegates, elected officials, party bigwigs, and a few Hollywood celebrities. Downtown Denver is clogged with traffic and enthusiastic Obama supporters. Stores are reporting brisk sales of Obama action figures.

SIEGEL: Barack Obama accepts his party's nomination Thursday night. Tonight, there will be a tribute to Senator Ted Kennedy. He is battling a malignant brain tumor, but he did travel to Denver for the tribute.

Tonight's top billing goes to Michelle Obama. And our colleague, Michele Norris, caught up with her earlier today.


We are here at the Pepsi Center with Michelle Obama. We're backstage. We're past the speechwriting hub and past the podium center, past the locker rooms that the professional hockey team, The Avalanche, uses, and we're here at a small room to do an interview, and we're so glad that you took time to spend with us. Welcome to the program again.

Ms. MICHELLE OBAMA (Wife of Barack Obama): Well, thank you for having me again. It's good to be here. This is my first official sit-down interview since I arrived.

NORRIS: In Denver.

Ms. OBAMA: Yeah, yeah.

NORRIS: Oh, color us honored.

Ms. OBAMA: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NORRIS: Now, this is a big night for you.

Ms. OBAMA: Yeah, I guess so.

NORRIS: As you think about what you have to say, and you make the case for your husband, what is the message that you have to deliver tonight? What's your role in making the case?

Ms. OBAMA: My role tonight is pretty much the same that it's been for the last 19 months. I mean, I know Barack better than anybody. I know him not as a politician but as a husband and a father and a man, and I want to talk about that and why I think he'll be an extraordinary president.

You know, I want people to understand who we are as a family, what our values are. I'll talk a bit about how I grew up. But you know, I think the overall theme is there really is more that unites us than divides us. And when we think about the values that have shaped our lives, our story is the great American story of success and pulling yourself up and making lemonade out of lemons. So I'll be talking a lot about that tonight.

NORRIS: I think the campaign is hoping that as a wife and a mother, as a woman, that your message will resonate in particular with female voters. And polls show that there are some Democratic women who supported Hillary Clinton who are still a bit slow to throw their full weight behind Barack Obama. What particular message will you have for them this evening?

Ms. OBAMA: Well, you know, I don't think that tonight's message will be uniquely different from what I've been saying. I am a mother first, and I am a mother who is concerned about the future that we're going to hand over to our children. And I don't know a woman on this planet who isn't a little bit concerned right now about the direction of this country.

I mean, that's the feedback and response that I get out there on the campaign trail. You know, we're still at a point in time in this country where women earn 77 cents to every dollar that a man earns. We're still in a position where women who are the primary breadwinners are making the choice between taking on an extra job that they need and being able to cover the cost of child care to be able to go to that job.

I mean, women are struggling. Families are struggling, but women bear that brunt. You know, my life isn't following that tough trajectory because we've been fortunate, but I know those struggles so clearly, and those struggles are universal.

So I talk about that because that's what I know, and I think that that's, you know, hopefully what women, whether they've been Hillary Clinton supporters or whether they're independents or Republicans who are looking for a different vision, that this will resonate, and they'll understand that Barack gets these struggles in a way that I don't think his opponent will get and in a way that we need in the next president of the United States.

NORRIS: Were you at all involved in the veep selection process?

Ms. OBAMA: No, and thank goodness. I mean, I joke because I don't like to be involved in the process stuff, quite frankly. I know Barack. I trust him implicitly. He is smart, he has good judgment, and I knew that he would pick the best person to help him not win in November but to lead, and I think he did an outstanding job in picking his running mate.

NORRIS: You are often tagged as an angry woman. The word anger is often attached to your name. And I'm wondering because of that, if when you respond to things on the campaign trail, if you have the full emotional palate with which to respond to things.

If a situation calls for you to be particularly sharp or to show a certain amount of assertiveness, are you able to do that without confronting that label once again?

Ms. OBAMA: You know, I just - throughout my life, I have not paid much attention about what people say about me who don't know me. It would be very hard for me to function in this world and to go through Princeton and Harvard and to work in all the careers that I worked if I worried about labels.

I mean, what I know, and a lot of people have to remember, politics is a game, and it's all about mischaracterization and all that things. It's unfortunate that that's what politics has become. But I don't let the game of politics influence what I say and who I will become, because in that way, this process would eat you up and spit you out, and then you look up and you won't know who you are.

Barack and I made a promise to ourselves that in the end of this, no matter what the outcome, when we looked at each other in the eye, we would still be able to recognize one another. And I still recognize him. He is the same man I fell in love with 19 year ago, and I believe he can say the same thing about me.

NORRIS: Now, when you talk about the campaign though, and you look at the ads that are running on constant rotation on television right now, the Obama campaign just revealed a new ad. It's to the tune of a Sam Cooke song, don't know much about history, don't know much about the economy, and they're talking about John McCain in this ad. And Barack Obama, throughout the campaign, has said that he would rise about the old politics, that he wouldn't engage in the old politics of cynicism. Yet I hear quite a bit of cynicism in that ad.

Ms. OBAMA: I think Barack has done a phenomenal job of staying above the fray. I mean, this has been a 19-month battle, and we still live in a political climate.

I think that you don't get the level of inspiration that you're seeing on the ground with this campaign, you don't get folks who are engaging in politics for the first time. We've got so many young people engaged. Folks are not doing this because they're cynical or believe that Barack is a cynical candidate. They're doing it because he alone in this election cycle has expressed a level of hope and positivity, along with a strong message for change.

You know, he has laid out a platform that is clear and concise about what we're going to do with tax policies, how we're going to create a universal health care system that really gets people on track, how we're going to expand national service so that kids and young people and old folks can serve their country and maybe get some help with college tuition.

He's talking a whole different game about how we treat our veterans. You know, make the GI bill something that is approachable, acceptable and available for every military family so that we show our commitment and patriotism to what we do for those families.

I mean, I could keep going. I know his plans and policies, and there's nothing cynical about it. It's all about future. It's about a vision for change, and it is working. Barack wasn't supposed to be here, and he is here because of a message, because of his judgment and intellect, and because he's been able to build and galvanize this movement, and it has been phenomenal to watch.

NORRIS: Thank you so much for speaking with us.

Ms. OBAMA: Thank you.

SIEGEL: That's Michelle Obama, speaking with our co-host, Michele Norris, at the Pepsi Center in Denver.

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