With North Carolina’s May 6 Democratic primary nearing, Michelle Obama, wife of presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama, spoke for over an hour on May 2 at the quad at UNC Asheville. She told the enthusiastic crowd of around 2,500 that her husband has the experience, policies and leadership to be the next president.
“The one thing about Barack is the way he’s run this race is a direct reflection of this values,” she told the audience. “We were told you don’t cut your opponents into itty-bitty pieces, because you never know when you’re going to need to sit down with those folks and work with them.
“We need someone who can inspire us not just to win a race but to be a different nation.”
Obama said that “the bar keeps getting raised” for working class Americans, and that it was getting harder and harder to make ends meet. She also shot back at criticism that has been waged against Sen. Obama as being out of touch with working-class voters.
“You have no support. I’ve met people across this country who drive hours to go to work. This is where we are in America, in 2008. Now you tell me I’m out of touch,” she said to a cheering crowd. “It hasn’t gotten better, it’s gotten more difficult. This is true in Democratic and Republican administrations. There’s one candidate in this race who understands what’s going on. Barack understands … we haven’t had leadership in a long time that understands we have a mutual obligation to one another.”
She said that she and Obama had paid off their college loans “just five years ago. Do you remember the last time a president had just paid off their college loans? We only paid them off because Barack wrote two bestselling books — and they call us elitist.”
Earlier, soul legend Gladys Knight touted Obama’s campaign as “a process that can take us to greater and greater heights,” and sang a brief rendition of “America the Beautiful.”
Local politicians, including as Asheville Mayor Terry Bellamy (who briefly addressed the audience), Buncombe County Board of Commissioners Vice Chair David Gantt and former County Commissioner Tom Sobol were in the front rows. Gantt said he supported Obama for his leadership style and his proposals on health care and ending the Iraq war. Sobol called himself “a longtime conservative, but his campaign’s inspired me.”
Michelle Obama also criticized gas-tax holidays proposed by Sen. Hillary Clinton, Obama’s rival for the Democratic nomination (who campaigned earlier today in Hendersonville), and Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee.
“This would give you $28 and take away millions from our infrastructure,” she said. “It’s a gimmick. Barack understands real change is going to come from alternative energy and reducing our gasoline consumption.”
She never identified Sen. Clinton by name, instead referring to “his opponent.” Former President Bill Clinton took a similar rhetorical tack in his visit to Asheville last month.
Perhaps the loudest applause of the night came when Obama touted her husband’s early opposition on the Iraq war.
“They say it didn’t count because he wasn’t in the U.S. Senate,” she asserted. “That’s because he was trying to get in the Senate, fighting a tough primary. They said then too that he was too young, that he needed experience, that he should wait his turn. First they said he was black, then not black enough. In spite of all that, in spite of the risk he was taking, he stood up and said the war was wrong, that it would cost millions of dollars and thousands of lives — and he was right. He stood up even though it wasn’t popular. He’s the only candidate who did that. There’s no question of when he’s ready: He’s ready now, he’s ready on day one, he’s ready on day 100.”
Click below to watch a video clip of Michelle Obama’s speech.
— David Forbes, staff writer