“When they go low, we go high”: Michelle Obama, Sarah Hurwitz and a story of successful speech writing

Although the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia was all about Hillary Clinton, it was Michelle Obama who stole the show. Her stirring speech quickly became viral on the Internet, making it to the top 3 subjects of the convention. Barack Obama’s congratulations to his wife o twitter became the most re-twitted post of the day with more than 170 000 shares.

 

In the beginning nothing announced such a big success. The audience of the Convention was clearly divided about the nomination of Hillary Clinton and reacted harshly to political speeches. But when Bernie Sanders’ supporters were breaking down in tears, Michelle Obama stepped in front of the divided public and delivered a powerful speech of unity.

 

Bernie Sander supporter
A dissapointed supporter of Bernie Sanders at the first day of the Convention Photograph: Mary Altaffer/AP

 

In the first part of her speech Michelle Obama spoke about her daughters and how results of the November elections will influence the future of all children in America.

 

“And make no mistake about it, this November, when we go to the polls, that is what we’re deciding, not Democrat or Republican, not left or right. No, this election, and every election, is about who will have the power to shape our children for the next four or eight years of their lives.”

 

 

 

Obama explained then why in her opinion Hillary Clinton is the best candidate for the presidential office.

 

“And when I think about the kind of President that I want for my girls and all our children, that’s what I want. I want someone with the proven strength to persevere. Someone who knows this job and takes it seriously. Someone who understands that the issues a President faces are not black and white and cannot be boiled down to 140 characters. Because when you have the nuclear codes at your fingertips and the military in your command, you can’t make snap decisions. You can’t have a thin skin or a tendency to lash out. You need to be steady, and measured, and well-informed.”

 

 

 

Finally, the first lady counter-argued Donald Trump’s political stands without however naming him directly. She insisted that there was no need for making America great again, because it was already a great country.

 

“That is the story of this country, the story that has brought me to this stage tonight, the story of generations of people who felt the lash of bondage, the shame of servitude, the sting of segregation, but who kept on striving and hoping and doing what needed to be done so that today, I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves and I watch my daughters, two beautiful, intelligent, black young women, playing with their dogs on the White House lawn. And because of Hillary Clinton, my daughters, and all our sons and daughters, now take for granted that a woman can be President of the United States.”

 

 

 

Behind this pure piece of oratory art was hidden Michelle Obama’s speech writer, Sarah Hurwitz. This 38-year-old lawyer from Harvard, is one of the most experienced coworkers of the Obama, working with the first lady since 2008.

 

Michelle Obama and Sarah Wur picture White House
Sarah Hurwitz with Michelle Obama. Photograph: Chuck Kennedy/The White House

 

Before joining the team of the FLOTUS* she worked as a trainee in the team of Al Gore, before becoming the principal speech writer for Hillary Clinton. Her last speech mastered for Clinton was the endorsement of Barack Obama in 2008.

 

“As we gather here today in this historic, magnificent building, the 50th woman to leave this Earth is orbiting overhead. If we can blast 50 women into space, we will someday launch a woman into the White House.

Although we weren’t able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time, thanks to you, it’s got about 18 million cracks** in it…”

 

Only two days later Hurwitz wrote the introductory speech for Michelle Obama at the Democrats National Convention in Dallas. Obama faced then important image difficulties as she suffered from public attacks of being angry, elitist and unpatriotic.

 

Hurwitz’s first assignment appeared to be so successful that 8 years after it was the speech plagiarized by Melania Trump.

 

 

 

Delivering public speeches has been an integral part of the first lady’s job description in the United States, yet public expectations make this exercise very delicate. On the one hand, the FLOTUS is expected to take public stands, on the other she should avoid any polarizing, thus political, opinions. Since Lady Bird Johnson, the figure of speech writer integrated the office of the first lady, playing an important role in her public image building.  In the case of Michelle Obama and Sarah Hurwitz the key of the success lies in the strong professional relation between the two women and intimate knowledge of Michelle Obama’s story by Hurwitz. The author of almost all public speeches of Obama explained once that

“As I write for her now, I’m sort of editing the speech with her voice in my head because she’s given me so much feedback over the years and been so clear about what she wants.”

 

Obama, with the help of Hurwitz, successfully responded to those demands, by creating an intimate style, full of emotions and personal stands, without any direct critics, and smartly connected to the “big narrative arc” of Barack Obama. She is today one of the most popular public figures, enjoying higher popularity than her husband or her two predecessors, Laura Bush and Hillary Clinton.

 

File photo of Michelle Obama in Richmond
Michelle Obama at a campaign rally in Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond in May 5, 2012. Photograph: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque/Files

 

 

*First Lady of the United States

** Reference to the number of votes for Hillary Clinton

 

 

 

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