Michelle Obama Visits Haverford
Everyone, it seems, had their own reasons for being excited about a visit from the wife of presidential candidate Barack Obama.
"I want to be part of the transformation of government in this country,” says Associate Professor of Biology Rob Fairman.
“When someone like her comes to campus, I want to be part of it—it’s historical,” says Scott Ness ’08.
“Having Ms. Obama here is a great way to promote political awareness and community and civic engagement on campus,” says Daniel Kent ’11. “Making an informed decision about who you’ll support in a presidential campaign is the responsibility and duty of every American.”
“I’m enthusiastic about Obama,” says Sally Morris, a resident of Radnor who came to campus specifically to hear the speech. “He’s our best chance for a good president in a long time. I’ve never given money to anyone before—I’ve always hated politicians! But I think he’s great.”
On Tuesday, April 15, Michelle Obama brought her husband’s message of hope and change to Haverford’s Alumni Field House for a rally and community gathering, sponsored by students David Burstein ’11 and Ben Takemoto ’10. Introduced by Molly Morrill ’11 of Students for Barack Obama as “the next First Lady of the United States,” Ms. Obama spoke to a large and admiring crowd of Haverford students, faculty and staff and members of the surrounding community.
“I’m honored and delighted to be here,” said Ms. Obama, who laughed that 2008 has been “an exciting time for the Obama household.” She stirred the crowd by recounting her husband’s successes in fundraising (which he achieved, she says, by “reaching out to regular folks, people who had never given before…understanding that $23 is just as important as $2300”) and his many caucus and primary victories, which have given him leads both in delegates and in the popular vote.
“The American people are hungry for change,” said Ms. Obama. “People are engaged in the political process, watching it in ways they haven’t in a long time.”
Ms. Obama spoke at length about America as a country where “the bar is set, and people struggle to reach that bar only to get there and find that the bar has moved.” These same people, she said, become naturally cynical, unable to believe that politics can have an impact on their lives. They don’t vote, they become isolated from others, and they become more susceptible to fear of everyone and everything.
“Fear is a veil of impossibility,” she said. “We talk about what we can’t do, and we pass that negativity on to the next generation. We’re raising a nation of doubters.” She believes that every child in the nation “should be dreaming huge, gigantic dreams, and have the confidence to go after them and have the love and resources of the whole nation behind them.”
Ms. Obama combated charges of elitism leveled against her and her husband by recalling her childhood in a working-class neighborhood on the south side of Chicago, attending local public schools with her brother (“When people see me, they see what an investment in public education can look like”). She talked about her father, who developed multiple sclerosis late in life but still woke up every day and went to his city job without complaint. She remembered how her parents sacrificed so she and her brother could achieve their dreams.
“Most Americans are just like my parents,” she said. “They don’t ask for much, they just want to earn enough to care for their families.”
Ms. Obama lamented the many hardships the people of the United States currently face, including spiraling health care costs, struggling public schools, dwindling jobs, and the seemingly insurmountable debt that plagues many college students attempting to pay off their loans. She revealed that she and her husband completed their loan payments only a few years ago.
“People end up forgoing the careers of their dreams,” she said, “because they can’t afford to be nurses or social workers or community organizers.”
Explaining to the crowd why they should vote for her husband both in the April 22 Pennsylvania primary and in the November election, Ms. Obama stressed, “I know this man—he gets it. Our greatest challenge is not a deficit of resources or policies or plans…it’s a deficit of empathy. We’ve lost our way as a nation; we don’t sacrifice for anyone else.”
Because of Barack Obama’s unique upbringing as the African American child of a white single mother, she said he sees the world in a way most Americans may not. “Imagine a president who respects and understands other cultures and traditions without fear, who believes a nation can impact small villages across oceans because he has family who lives in one of those villages.”
She dismissed opponents’ claims of her husband’s lack of experience, pointing to his eight years in the Illinois state Senate, where he worked to strengthen civil rights, expand health insurance coverage, and amend a flawed death penalty system. She also praised his early and steadfast opposition to the war in Iraq, an opinion he voiced during a particularly contentious Senate race.
“It’s not a question of his being ready to lead,” she said. “He’ll be ready on day one, day 100, day 200.”
This race, she reminded the crowd, is not about her husband. “It’s about us, and what we’re ready to do. If he wins with you, he cannot lead without you.” She concluded by leading the cheering throng in a call and response: “Can we do it?” “Yes we can!”
“It’s great to hear her talk about these issues,” says Amirah Nash ’11, who is participating in her first election this year. “Her speech was so inspiring, it got me even more excited to vote for Obama.”