Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

Will we soon have political wives like Michelle Obama over here?

In the flesh Michelle Obama looks younger than she does in photographs or on TV. Maybe that's because we're used to seeing her pictured at formal functions. Formally attired.

But here she is today in a casual patterned sleeveless dress. Her hair is all loose and shiny and expensively highlighted and she's beaming and relaxed. As if she's just dropped in on a few friends.

Which in a way she has..

She knows we're happy to see her because we have queued for two whole hours in baking heat just to get into this building.

Tickets had warned us to expect "airport style security" at the auditorium where she is about to speak to around 2,000 campaign workers and supporters.

Only minimum personal belongings, we have been advised. No umbrellas.

In the sweltering, snaking queue, it's hard not to notice that just about every other person is using an umbrella as a makeshift parasol. One group are even carrying massive beach umbrellas. Each.

Americans obviously don't read ticket small print.

The crowd is predominantly (about 80%) black and enormously good humoured. The elderly and less mobile are encouraged to shelter under trees from the merciless sun while the rest of us kept their place in line.

Bottles of cold water are handed around. Everyone is checking that everyone else is OK. The heat is hellish.

And inside it's standing room only for another couple of hours' wait. A young girl collapses and is stretchered away - one of over a dozen casualties who require medical assistance. A handful of Democratic dignitaries speak. A Baptist choir leads the crowd in the national anthem. There's a surprisingly jaunty rendition of Amazing Grace.

Placards are distributed. Supporters chant the 2012 campaign slogan. "All Fired Up - And Ready to Go."

All grist for the dozens of TV and Press cameras.

And then there she is right before us. An arm's length away.

She's tall which helps any speaker. But it's her obviously heartfelt passion that impresses most. She speaks (seeming without notes) for the best part of an hour.

Her message is old school socialism. But with appeal to middle class voters (in this tight election battle undoubtedly a vital constituency.)

She talks about equal rights for all "regardless of who we love". (The gay couple beside me like that.) And of course there's reference to Obamacare.

In future she says, no person who suffers from serious illness - she cites breast cancer as example - will have to fear their insurance running out. Near me a young woman gives such a sudden moan of obvious recognition it touches the very heart.

The longest, throatiest roar of approval today though, is for Mrs Obama's support for a women's right to choose on abortion.

She is one class act. I don't know about her husband - but I'd vote for her.

The First Lady's role in this election will be invaluable because Obama and Romney are so close in the polls.

Political spouses (they're nearly always wives) aren't always such political gold. Hillary Clinton was seen as too interfering. Cherie Blair was just too annoying.

Here in Northern Ireland? Iris aside, they haven't made a whole lot of headlines. Some (especially in Sinn Fein, oddly enough) have been virtually invisible.

Could that be set to change in future elections?

Depends I suppose, on how willing the political spouse.

During Hillary's campaign for the Democratic candidacy, Bill Clinton was panned for seeming half-hearted in his support.

One analyst suggested it might be down to Bill's own love of limelight.

"What you need to know about Bill is this", he memorably summed up. "Bill is Gladys Knight. He's not a Pip."

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