SMichelle Obama will be speaking at the Democratic National Convention tonight, and many believe that it is her first "big test" at the forefront of the political and critical arena. Though first ladies, especially in the era of the pallid Laura Bush, may seem like an afterthought, their effect on voters is undeniable. In 2004, George Bush's approval rating was in the crapper, but when Laura spoke at the Republican convention that year, her "mixture of genteelness and gentility" made her "almost impossible to dislike," according to the Independent, and her approval rating was hovering around 70% at that point. Even the polarizing Hillary made strides when she spoke during the 1992 DNC.According to the Washington Post, Hills took the stage in '92 with a 45% favorable rating and a 30% unfavorable rating. "After her speech, that initial 15-point net positive rating increased to a 27-point advantage." Michelle is going into her speech tonight with approval ratings similar to Hillary's and also similar to Cindy McCain's. Both women have a favorability rating hovering around 50%; 75% of people who back Barack have favorable views of Michelle, while 70% of those who back John have favorable views of Michelle. So where does that leave Michelle this evening? With a great opportunity. While Michelle is indeed outspoken, she doesn't have the same haughty trappings that the uber-wealthy Teresa Heinz Kerry had. While Cindy McCain's background of privilege comes off as "sophisticated" rather than snotty, Michelle still doesn't come from a background that has provided her husband's campaign with private jets, and this is one of her greatest assets — one she obviously plans to exploit this evening. Yesterday, "This American Life" aired an episode focusing on stereotypes in which Richard Price, the author of Lush Life and Clockers, told a story about riding around with some New York City cops and seeing them hassle a black man who was hanging out with a 9-year-old boy at midnight. They assumed something was hinky, when the black man was really just the kid's mother's boyfriend. Michelle Obama benefits from the fact that while there are many stereotypes of blacks in America, there are almost no preconceived notions of the black middle class. The Times of London quotes Wesleyan professor Gayle Pemberton, who says, "The black middle class is the most invisible, unknown group in the country. There are millions and millions of people in it, and yet we know nothing about them." Michelle Obama, the daughter of a hardworking, blue collar dad who had multiple sclerosis and still provided for his family, has what she herself called on CNN "quintessential American stories." When speaking to hipster mama site Babble, Michelle said, "I'm grateful for the attention, because it lets me be a stronger voice for working women and military families. I can bring the issues that are important to them to the forefront of a national political discussion. It's a great gift." Her straightforward way of speaking and her focus on family will appear much more relatable than the wealthy upbringing of a beer heiress, and hopefully people wary of Michelle's ivy education and skin color will see that tonight at the convention. And if they don't: fingers crossed they listen to Oprah! Michelle, Obama's Iron Belle, Faces Her Big Test [Times of London] Why Middle America Finds Genteel Laura So Appealing [Independent] A Chance For The Candidates' Wives To Court Support [Washington Post] Cindy McCain, Meet Everyone [NY Mag] Michelle Obama: On The Campaign, Her Career, And Raising Kids In The Public Eye. [Babble] Earlier: Spouse Wars! Who Needs A Female President When America Is Really Only Electing First Ladies Anymore?
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