The traditional role of a first lady at campaign events is to let us see her husband as she sees him. And a national convention is the ultimate Campaign Event. At its best, it is a kind of poetry reading, and requires the same willing suspension of disbelief from its audience. In this case, the audience is the nation.
How well a first lady does depends on who she is, and who the president is. Just imagine the monumental task Pat Nixon had. Then again, Jackie Kennedy seemed to the manor born and reared for the role. She was always the refined Bouvier, a restful island in a rocky Irish sea of Kennedys. She gave Joe Kennedy's boy class, to use a phrase without it. The way Ted Sorensen did his speeches and books.
The current, artless term of art for the assignment no first lady can escape is the neo-word, humanize. As in, Ann Romney humanized her husband at this year's Republican national convention. Well, almost.
At its worst, such a performance by a first lady is unconvincing. Like a living, breathing woman pretending to be a Stepford Wife adopting a fixed smile while her president-husband orates, politicks, and generally carries on to no great purpose, as men will. Much like Hillary Clinton at Bill's side on the campaign trail. Nobody bought it. Especially those who remembered her as the Radcliffe radical with the thick glasses and sharp opinions. Some of us still do miss that girl.
But a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do, mainly grow up, no matter how tough the job is. Like being first lady whether she feels like getting out of bed in the morning or not. And greet visitors, give autographs, smile perfectly, and give that day's speech, even The Speech, as Michelle Obama did Tuesday night in Charlotte.
And she was magnificent. Soaring, strengthening, assuring, her own story the nation's, her own beliefs American ones. She's come an admirable ways since her husband was nominated for president and she said that for the first time she was proud of her country. Her candor back then was as welcome as it was revealing.
You can tell when a speaker is doing more than speaking, when she is creating a new, stronger, better reality. How? When the speaker herself is moved, when Michelle Obama's own voice trembles, her own eyes tear up a little at her own words.
A great actor, even a B actor, doesn't imitate a character but becomes one. Just think Ronald Reagan. There are times when we not only share a speaker's story, we recognize it as our own. It had just been obscured within us till the right speaker brought it out. And then . . . . What's that? A tear in your own eye?