First Lady Michelle Obama is back on the fund-raising circuit and she’s painting a very flattering picture of her hubby.
“See, what you all need to know about the President you helped to elect is that when it comes to the people he meets, Barack has a memory like a steel trap,” she told her eager audience at a sold-out breakfast fund-raiser at the Claremont Hotel in Berkeley, Calif., on June 14.
“He has a gift in that way, able to retain information, know more than those who are briefing him, asking critical questions, because all of those wins and losses are not wins and losses for him [but] they are wins and losses for the folks whose stories he carries with him, the folks that he worries about and prays about before he goes to bed at night,” she said, according to a White House transcript of the speech.
She stuck to the script at her lunchtime fundraiser in the tony Julia Morgan ballroom in San Francisco. “Your President is a special person, because when it comes to the people he meets, Barack has a memory like a steel trap,” she repeated. “That is where Barack gets his passion… that’s why he works so hard every day, first thing in the morning, late into the night …reading every word, making notes and writing questions, and being better prepared than the people briefing him, because all those wins and losses are not wins and losses [just] for him.”
In contrast, Laura Bush offered much less grandiose compliments for her husband, and therefore his supporters. “We want a President who is strong and steady and compassionate, and who keeps his word, and I’m so proud that my husband is that kind of leader… He believes that it’s his duty, the responsibility of every leader, to find solutions to problems, not pass them on to future Presidents or future generations,” she declared at a October 28, 2004 speech in Florida’s Port St. Lucie.
Ms. Bush also added some unflattering, but crowd-pleasing, stories. “George and I were visiting his parents in Maine for the 4th of July… And George sat on the sofa and put his feet up on the coffee table. And all of a sudden, [his mother] Barbara Bush hollered, ‘Put your feet down.’ George’s dad said, ‘For goodness sake, Bar, he’s the President of the United States.’ And Bar replied, ‘I don’t care — I don’t want his feet on my coffee table.’ So you see, even Presidents have to listen to their mother.”
The first ladies’ speeches are very different because the speakers and audiences want very different things.
Laura Bush could make a joke at George W.‘s expense because “they love to laugh … and that’s part of their identity, so the audience responds well to speeches that remind everyone of their humanity,” said Charlie Fern, a former journalist who wrote speeches for Laura Bush while she was the First Lady of Texas and of the United States. But “the Obamas are serious and they don’t joke around much… and if you tried to write a joke for them they wouldn’t deliver it well,” especially when an audience is worried about the economy, said Fern, who worked briefly as an aide to Governor Ann Richards, Bush’s Democratic predecessor.
That seriousness is displayed in the First Lady’s speeches to audiences of fellow professionals. Those speeches feature a resume-like list of political accomplishments, and are accompanied by little humor and few personal stories. “My husband signed the Affordable Care Act, as you know, which makes it easier for millions — millions of Americans to afford a doctor… We’ve held forums and launched pilot programs to promote workplace flexibility because we know, all of us, that flexible workplaces translates into more productive workers, more satisfied employers, and more importantly a robust economy. We all know that… My husband nominated two phenomenal women — Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan — to the Supreme Court. (Applause.) … He has made women nearly half of his nominees to the federal bench, which is a greater percentage than any other President in history,” she declared at a June 9 event in Washington D.C. held by the National Women’s Partnership Luncheon.
But the high-dollar donors prefer personal stories, Fern said. They tend to know the political scene very well, and they like the emotional connection that brings them closer to the politician, said Fern, who lives in Austin, Texas. For example, Bush’s speeches to Christian audiences would often cite his private prayers, Fern said.
Ms. Obama’s speeches showcase the president’s emotional reactions and intellectual responses, both of which are valued by his donor base of university-educated professionals.