Michelle Obama stepped outside the traditional role of a former first lady and delivered a blistering attack on President Donald Trump, saying the job of leading the country was “over his head.”
The former first lady was speaking in support of Joe Biden on the first night of a highly unusual Democratic National Convention, which was held virtually for the first time because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Obama, who has attained a huge level of popularity within the Democratic Party and among a wider group of Americans as a bestselling author, declared “you know I hate politics,” before launching into a speech excoriating the sitting president.
“If you think things cannot possibly get worse, trust me, they can,” she said. “And they will if we don’t make a change in this election.”
Obama’s 18-minute speech was recorded six days ago, prior to Biden’s announcement of California Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate.
Obama’s speech was the final and longest speech of the night, and followed speeches from Bernie Sanders, the family of George Floyd, Kristin Urquiza, whose father died of the coronavirus, and former Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, one of several Republicans to speak in support of Biden.
Here are the highlights of Obama’s speech:
Obama attacked Trump’s lack of leadership on all fronts, including the economy, his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, and the rising anger about racial injustice across the country.
"Our economy is in shambles because of a virus that this president downplayed for too long,” Obama said. "Stating the simple fact that a black life matters is still met with derision from the nation's highest office.”
"Because whenever we look to this White House for some leadership, or consolation or any semblance of steadiness, what we get instead is chaos, division, and a total and utter lack of empathy,” she continued.
The chaos of the last four years has been difficult to explain to America's children, Obama said.
“They see our leaders labeling fellow citizens enemies of the state, while emboldening torch-bearing white supremacists. They watch in horror as children are torn from their families and thrown into cages, and pepper spray and rubber bullets are used on peaceful protests for a photo op.”
She added that Trump’s three-and-a-half years in office have been “more than enough time to prove that he can do the job, but he is clearly in over his head. He cannot meet this moment.”
"You simply cannot fake your way through this job," she said.
Back in 2016, Obama introduced the phrase: “When they go low, we go high.”
She returned to the topic on Monday night, telling viewers that, after four years of President Trump some might ask: “Does going high still really work?”
“My answer: Going high is the only thing that works,” she said, “because when we go low, when we use those same tactics of degrading and dehumanizing others, we just become part of the ugly noise that’s drowning out everything else.”
She added: “Let’s be clear: going high does not mean putting on a smile and saying nice things when confronted by viciousness and cruelty. Going high means taking the harder path.”
Obama’s necklace, which spelled out the word V-O-T-E was arguably a bigger hit on social media than her words, but the necklace’s message was part of a broader effort to remind voters how important it is to get out and cast their ballot.
“We've got to vote early, in person if we can,” she said. She urged people to request their absentee ballot “tonight” and submit it immediately before getting their friends to do the same.
She also warned about just staying home, as many did in 2016, out of the belief that their votes don’t count or because Biden is not a perfect fit for them.
And she warned that as a result of limited voting locations as a result of the pandemic, people need to be prepared for long lines.
As well as laying into his opponent, Obama praised the man who was her husband’s vice president for eight years as a “profoundly decent man” who “knows what it takes to rescue an economy, beat back a pandemic, and lead our country.”
She told the story of Biden’s personal tragedies, including losing his first wife, baby daughter, and adult son, adding that Biden has prevailed through those challenges and will “channel that same grit and passion to help us heal and guide us forward.”
Cover: In this image from video, former first lady Michelle Obama speaks during the first night of the Democratic National Convention on Monday, Aug. 17, 2020. (Democratic National Convention via AP)