Michelle Obama: Yes, My Husband Is American

Josh Barro is the lead writer for the Ticker, Bloomberg View's blog on economics, finance and politics. His primary areas of interest include tax and fiscal policy, state and local government, and planning and land use.
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Michelle Obama gave a great speech last night, making the case that her husband is a good man, a good father and a good president.

Most important, she made the case that, contrary to Republican insinuations, her husband is a real and relatable American.

The Romney campaign thinks it has an “Americanness” advantage. Two weeks ago, Mitt Romney quipped that his Midwestern upbringing meant that “No one has ever asked to see my birth certificate.” His remark is part of a pattern of Republicans, with varying degrees of subtlety, calling President Barack Obama’s nationality into question.

Michelle Obama presented a counternarrative last night. Moving beyond race and geography and even political ideology, Obama made the case that her husband’s personal values link him to the American public.

The case: Michelle and Barack were raised with fundamentally American values of hard work and honesty. Their parents (and in Barack’s case, grandparents) were middle-class strivers who wanted their children to live better than they did. Their families valued education, and they sacrificed financially so that Barack and Michelle could excel academically.

Obama used the word “American” eight times in the speech, often in direct reference to her and her husband’s families. For example, “Barack knows the American Dream because he’s lived it.” For comparison, Ann Romney said “American” only twice in her convention speech, and never in direct reference to herself or her husband.

Obama also got some digs at Mitt Romney, particularly by noting that her husband “believes that when you’ve worked hard, and done well, and walked through that doorway of opportunity, you do not slam it shut behind you.” This wasn’t a suggestion that Romney isn’t American, but it was an argument that her husband’s values are more in line with the country than Romney’s are.

Michelle Obama had the advantage of saying something that is true. Her husband is an American who was raised in America, so it shouldn’t be that hard to make the case that his values are American. But it needed to be done, and she did it well, in a way that will hopefully dampen one of the uglier lines of attack against the president.

(Josh Barro is lead writer for the Ticker. E-mail him and follow him on Twitter.)

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.