Jenice Armstrong: Michelle Obama, Ann Romney show their strengths

Posted: September 07, 2012

FIRST LADY Michelle Obama, whose approval rating is higher than her husband's, has hit her stride.

I knew she would.

Reaction to Tuesday night's speech was uniformly glowing, proving that she's a political rock star - and one of her husband's biggest political assets.

She's come a long way from four years ago, when critics complained about everything from her supposed angry-black-woman attitude to her alleged lack of patriotism.

It probably didn't hurt that she looked great, resplendent in a sleeveless Tracy Reese dress and pink J.Crew pumps. And that unusual nail color she was wearing? According to the Fashionista blog, it's Artistic Colour Gloss Soak Off Color Gel in the color "Vogue."

Note to self: Get some before it's sold out.

And yet for all that, Michelle seemed like one of us, evoking memorable images as she talked about her family's humble beginnings while making the case for her husband's re-election.

There's no denying it. Michelle is one bad mom-in-chief.

The Twittersphere went bonkers for her. Reuters reported that she racked up 28,000 tweets per minute at the conclusion of her speech. (In contrast, Gov. Mitt Romney's wife Ann's tweets-per-minute tally was just over 6,000.) Comedian Chris Rock tweeted, "I'm ready to vote NOW dammmit! Where's the ballot? What day is it? Where am I? Who am I? Michelle OBAMA ladies & gentlemen. Wow."

The beauty is that Michelle's is not an overnight success story.

The first lady has come a long way from four years ago, when critics wouldn't stop talking about her now infamous line: "For the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country." Instantly, she became a lightning rod, caricatured as an unpatriotic angry black woman.

Today, she's one of the most popular political figures in America, said Costas Panagopoulos, director of the Center for Electoral Politics and Democracy at Fordham University.

"This is not something that happened overnight," he said. "We've watched this transition unfold over several years. . . . People generally approve of the kind of issues that she's trying to work for and support and championing, and she's managed to stay away from controversial matters."

In the video montage that aired before her speech, Michelle can be seen doing what she's been exhorting Americans to do for the past four years in her Let's Move campaign - actually moving her body. As someone who's trying to live a healthier lifestyle, I can relate, even if I can only dream of the day I'll be able to pump out push-ups the way she did on "Ellen."

And that photo of President Obama watching Michelle's speech with their daughters? Priceless.

In all fairness, Ann Romney's speech went over well, too. She helped humanize Mitt, whom she met in high school, by talking about their their early days together. Her pointing out her health issues over the years - a miscarriage, a multiple sclerosis diagnosis, breast cancer - are reminders that despite someone's considerable wealth (and the Romneys have way more than most), that's still not enough to guarantee the most important things in life.

But Michelle Obama's words resonated powerfully with me, as someone who took years to pay off my own student loans and whose dad also woke up cheerfully to face whatever hardship he had to face as he struggled to care for his family .

I'm sure her words resonated with a lot of people. And yet I also agree with Panagopoulos' takeaway: "One thing is for sure and that's that no matter what happens in November, Americans will have a first lady they will be happy with come 2013."


Contact Jenice Armstrong at heyjen@phillynews.com or 215-854-2223. Follow her on Twitter @JeniceAmstrong. Read her blog at philly.com/HeyJen.

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