Thinking of any election in terms of our children is nothing new for parents, but at her speech for the Democratic National Convention on Monday night, Michelle Obama outlined some very key and sometimes unexpected reasons parents should feel especially invested in voting this year. The former first lady framed this as a moment when we can show our children “what we truly value.”
Any political speech of this era is bound to contain nods to important issues for parents — childcare and education. Obama certainly mentioned those: “Even when it all feels so overwhelming, working parents are somehow piecing it all together without child care,” Obama said, more than halfway through her speech. “Teachers are getting creative so that our kids can still learn and grow.”
But the crux of her prerecorded message for voters (and those she hopes to inspire to be voters) was much deeper. She put all of American history into the lens of raising children.
“That’s the story of America: all those folks who sacrificed and overcame so much in their own times because they wanted something more, something better for their kids,” Obama said.
Not even Republicans can argue with that thesis. What followed, however, was an indictment of how recent generations have been going about trying to make things better for our children, at the expense of others. What has been missing from Donald Trump and other’s motivations has been empathy, she said. They haven’t recognized that other people’s lives and experience have as much value as their own.
“It’s what we teach our children, and like so many of you, Barack and I have tried our best to instill in our girls a strong moral foundation to carry forward the values that our parents and grandparents poured into us,” she said. “But right now, kids in this country are seeing what happens when we stop requiring empathy of one another, They’re looking around wondering if we’ve been lying to them this whole time about who we are and what we truly value.”
Those who don’t wear masks for the protection of others, those that call the police on Black people for little reason, and those who want to restrict immigration are all practicing a lack of empathy. By doing so, they’re showing the next generation that greed is better than caring for others in the community. This is all something Michelle and Barack Obama discussed at length in the first episode of her podcast last month. Whereas Michelle Obama was raised in a community where everyone looked out for each other’s children, little of that is taking place in our every-man-for-himself world.
Our children are watching all of this unfold, Michelle Obama warned on Monday.
“They see our leaders labeling fellow citizens enemies of the state while emboldening torch-bearing white supremacists,” she said. “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 protesters for a photo op.”
Returning empathy to a higher place in our national value system is going to take more than one election, but Obama brought her message back to the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee nonetheless. She even returned to those more concrete goals voters tend to look for.
“Joe Biden wants all of our kids to go to a good school, see a doctor when they’re sick, live on a healthy planet,” she said. “And he’s got plans to make all of that happen. Joe Biden wants all of our kids, no matter what they look like, to be able to walk out the door without worrying about being harassed or arrested or killed. He wants all of our kids to be able to go to a movie or a math class without being afraid of getting shot. He wants all our kids to grow up with leaders who won’t just serve themselves and their wealthy peers but will provide a safety net for people facing hard times.”
Still, in the end, Obama took her speech to that “we go high” mindset that made her last DNC speech so famous.
“And if we want to keep the possibility of progress alive in our time, if we want to be able to look our children in the eye after this election, we have got to reassert our place in American history,” she said. “And we have got to do everything we can to elect my friend, Joe Biden, as the next president of the United States.”
Looking for more ways to set an example for your kids? Read these books starring girls of color.