Obama said that she’d seen Biden at work and that he’d proved himself capable of handling the demands of the job. She cited several of the Obama administration’s achievements as evidence of Biden’s aptness for office, from expanding health care under the Affordable Care Act to rallying allies to combat climate change.
“You simply cannot fake your way through this job,” Obama said. “Being president doesn’t change who you are. It reveals who you are.”
“Well, a presidential election can reveal who we are, too,“ she continued.
Obama cast the election as about not only policy but also character. She described the Trump era as one filled with division and devoid of empathy. She expressed fear for the values being passed on to future generations — as the national leadership demeans the Black Lives Matter movement, as the wearing of masks in public has become a political act, and as winning has become everything “because as long as you come out on top, it doesn’t matter what happens to everyone else.”
To Obama, electing Biden meant a return to civility and moral leadership in the White House — a change as important as any policy agenda Biden could offer.
“I know Joe,” she said, seated in a living room, wearing a thin, gold V-O-T-E necklace, with family pictures and a Biden for President sign in the background. “He is a profoundly decent man, guided by faith.”
Obama is a widely popular figure in the Democratic Party, despite her never having held elected office. She has opened up about the challenges her husband‘s presidency presented to her family, and said during her Monday speech, “You know I hate politics.“
Her speech at the 2016 convention made headlines when she declared, “When they go low, we go high,” in reference to attacks on her family.
Still, she did not spare her criticisms, and made clear that to “go high“ did not mean to go soft. She issued a searing criticism of President Donald Trump for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Trump, she said, is “clearly in over his head“ and isn’t capable of fulfilling his responsibilities.
“He cannot meet this moment,” she said. “He simply cannot be who we need him to be for us.”
“It is what it is,” she said, an apparent jab at Trump for the same line he used when confronted with the death toll from the coronavirus.
Obama also acknowledged Biden’s flaws, adding that the former vice president himself “will be the first to tell you that“ he is not perfect.
Still, she called on voters to rally around Biden, evoking the 2008 and 2012 turnout that took her husband to the White House. She discouraged voters from not voting as a protest of Biden’s nomination in what seemed to be a reference to the Bernie Sanders supporters who loudly voiced their discontent with Hillary Clinton’s nomination in 2016.
“This is not the time to withhold our votes in protest or play games with candidates who have no chance of winning,“ Obama said.
Citing Biden’s history of family tragedies, Obama said his life was “a testament to getting back up.”
“And he is going to channel that same grit and passion to pick us all up, to help us heal and guide us forward,” she said.
Obama’s speech drew praise from fellow Democrats. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, who had endorsed Sanders in the primaries, lauded the former first lady’s speech as “Incredibly powerful, deeply moving.”
Former Democratic presidential candidates also expressed their admiration for Obama‘s talk. Pete Buttigieg tweeted after her address: “Such wisdom, such grace, and such moral clarity from Michelle Obama tonight. She is so right about the America we can, and must, be.“
And Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey wrote: “I miss Obama, and I miss her husband too.“
But not everyone had such flattering reviews. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who ran for the Republican nomination in 2016, tweeted that his “view of what life was like after the Obama presidency is much different than that of“ Michelle Obama. Trump retweeted Graham.
Even before the convention began, Trump chided Obama for prerecording her speech.
“Who wants to listen to Michelle Obama do a taped speech?” Trump said to booing supporters in Oshkosh, Wis.