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Michelle Obama shows her husband’s personal side

Christopher Wills
Michelle Obama shows her husband’s personal side
Michelle Obama waves as she looks over the podium with her daughters Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7, at the Democratic National Convention in Denver on Monday, Aug. 25, 2008. In her address on the convention’s opening night, Michelle Obama spoke of her husband’s values and his desire to improve the world for their two children. (Photo: AP /Ron Edmonds)

DENVER — Michelle Obama cast herself and husband Barack as people guided by bedrock American values and a desire to improve the world for their two daughters and all children in her address Monday to the Democratic National Convention.

She was slotted as the showcase speaker on Day One of the convention, and her mission was to help voters get to know the Democratic nominee as a husband and father, as someone who understands the problems that families face every day.

“We want our children — and all children in this nation — to know that the only limit to the height of your achievements is the reach of your dreams and your willingness to work for them,” she said in excerpts released in advance of her appearance.

Obama said she and her husband were raised with the values shared by many Americans: “that you work hard for what you want in life; that your word is your bond and you do what you say you’re going to do; that you treat people with dignity and respect, even if you don’t know them, and even if you don’t agree with them.”

“Barack and I set out to build lives guided by these values, and pass them on to the next generation,” she said.

Voters know the public Barack Obama, the guy on magazine covers and nightly newscasts. His wife hoped to reassure voters that her husband is a lot like they are, despite all the attention given to his African father, his over-the-top minister and his exotic name.

And in an age when candidates’ spouses face scrutiny, too, Obama also hoped to send the message that she is a true believer in American values. The Obama campaign said Michelle Obama’s life adds up to “a great American story: modest means but big dreams — and encouragement from loving parents.”

The campaign prepared “South Side Girl,” a biographical film narrated by Michelle Obama’s mother, to run before her speech. She was being introduced by her brother, Craig Robinson, the head basketball coach at Oregon State University.

After the speech, Barack Obama planned to appear via satellite.

Michelle Obama’s mother and brother joined her Monday morning for an inspection of the massive stage where she was to speak later in the day. Daughters Malia and Sasha tagged along, as did Barack Obama’s sister Maya Soetoro-Ng.

Seven-year-old Sasha got to peek over the podium and bang the gavel, sending a “thump” echoing across the convention hall. Then her mother did the same.

Obama’s speech stressed her role as a mother.

“I come here as a Mom whose girls are the heart of my heart and the center of my world. They’re the first thing I think about when I wake up in the morning, and the last thing I think about when I go to bed at night,” she said.

Since Barack Obama launched his campaign more than 18 months ago, his wife has helped humanize him.

She has reminded voters that he can be sloppy. She scolds him for leaving a clogged toilet for her to handle. The couple frequently tells people that her words of inspiration before his big 2004 convention speech were, “Just don’t screw it up, buddy.”

She also talks about Barack Obama being raised by a single mother who sometimes struggled to make ends meet and she describes their own challenges of juggling the demands of work and children.

But Michelle Obama has also created complications for her husband — most famously, that the campaign had made her proud of America for the first time in her adult life. She later said she meant pride in the political process, not in the country in general.

Critics have dissected everything from her college thesis to a “fist bump” with her husband.

To counter such critics, Obama planned to drive home that her success is the result of hard work by two loving parents — “a father who was a blue collar city worker, and a mother who stayed at home with my brother and me.” They managed to send both children to Ivy League schools.

Fraser Robinson was a Democratic precinct captain who worked swing shifts at the water plant. His wife Marian raised the kids in a one-bedroom apartment on the top floor of her aunt’s house, where Michelle and Craig slept in the living room, converted into two tiny bedrooms and a study area.

(Associated Press)