Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton at the Convention

M_id_35744 Amitava Kumar reports from the DNC, in the Indian Express:

Near the end of his book The Audacity of Hope, Barack Obama recalls a phone conversation with his wife Michelle after getting elected to the U S Senate, a conversation during which he began to tell her about a significant piece of legislation that he was fighting to get passed. But Michelle Obama had something else on her mind. She said to her husband, “We have ants.”Ants?

Yes, they were the problem. In the kitchen and in the bathroom upstairs. Michelle wanted Barack to pick up ant traps for their home. This conversation made the rookie Senator wonder if someone like Ted Kennedy or John McCain bought ant traps on the way home from work.

The point of the anecdote, I think, was to establish that Obama’s needs, and his family’s needs, even when he became a Senator, were ordinary. But a part of the story’s purpose is also to tell us that it is Michelle Obama who keeps Barack practical and grounded.

Was this the task that she was once again burdened with on Monday night?

Not to put too fine a point on it but ants just didn’t belong in Pepsi Center. The place is huge, its interiors soar. The very scale of things suggests size and ambition and vast sums of money. What occurred to me as I stood outside was that the building could swallow several of Saddam’s palaces.

In fact, I was still unprepared for the immensity inside and it took my breath away. If the practical entered the picture, as it must, at the level of planning and detail, it was only in the service of something grand. Michelle Obama delivered a powerful and deft speech, telling the story of her family and attempting earnestly to define herself for strangers. Except that she was also responding in a very precise way to criticism made of her in the past, and this open act, because it was being performed on such a big public stage, threatened each utterance by exposing its fragility.

I understood this more fully only when I came out of the Pepsi Center, and a friend of mine, who is black and a writer, sent me a text message from upstate New York saying that Michelle’s humanity had been diminished that evening: the white majority had imposed on her the view that she could be considered acceptable only if she said nothing critical of her own country.