The media has covered Michelle Obama's final college commencement speech as First Lady, delivered last week at City College of New York, almost exclusively as a barely-veiled excoriation of Donald Trump. In the collective cheer for her pro-diversity, anti "wall" remarks, however, we seem to have missed a more telling possibility -- it might just be an opening salvo for her own, post-White House, senate election campaign.
This isn't a new idea. Theories have swirled in the past about the possibility of Michelle running for office after she and the president leave the White House, though nothing concrete has ever emerged. But that's because the media keeps asking about a run for president, instead of the more obvious alternative.
Both Mrs. Obama and her husband have said she will not run for president. She's said she dislikes living in the White House, constantly watched and examined under a figurative glass dome. She's said that her children still need her around. All reasons why some signs point to a run for Senate as the optimal choice for her, and last week's speech at City College of New York might be just such a sign.
After all, Mrs. Obama has said repeatedly that her long term goals have always revolved around the public sector. Keep in mind, a president holds power for only eight years maximum, a drop in the historical bucket, while a Senator can get re-elected indefinitely. The impact on public policy that a Senator can make versus a president is direct and renewable, especially for someone like Michelle who has both relative youth (she'll be 53 when she leaves the White House) and guaranteed lifelong name recognition.
Whichever state the Obamas settle in, Michelle will have high approval ratings. She consistently has polled higher than the only other former First Lady-turned-Senator, both during and after the White House. She also has an impressive pre-First Lady resume, arguably more impressive than her husband's own pre-Senate resume. Her work experience is both tangible and reflective of experience in public affairs:
A Harvard law degree. Assistant to Chicago mayor Richard M. Daly, followed by a stint as Assistant commissioner of planning and development. Executive Director of Public Allies Chicago, named by President Bill Clinton as a model AmeriCorps program. University of Chicago Associate Dean of student services, followed by Executive Director of community affairs.
And then there's that City College commencement speech.
First, the rush to conclusion of it mostly being an anti-Donald speech -- which effectively would just make it a pro-Hillary speech -- is chump bait. Sure, the ubiquitous dog whistles were all there: "We don't build walls to keep people out;" "We're all in this together;" "They tell us to be afraid of those who are different."
But that menu has been served up ad nauseam in this graduation season by all the usual suspects -- by the president himself, in his recent Rutgers commencement speech, as well as by Elizabeth Warren and John Kerry, among other notable Dems. So it's no surprise that Michelle's speech would be sprinkled with the same cliche Donald markers, pretty much a Democrat speechmaker's prerequisite in an election year.
Michelle, though, as much as she might dislike Trump, almost certainly dislikes Hillary more, and has never made much of a secret of it. Was she really going to waste her final First Lady moment, in front of a presumably textbook Democrat New York audience of college graduates, family and faculty, to give Hillary a leg up just by blasting Donald?
What was noticeably different about Michelle's speech is what she subtly included with many of those dog whistles:
Here in America, we don't give in to our fears...
Here in America, we don't let our differences tear us apart. Not here...
The greatness of America has never come from folks who climbed the ladder of success...
Because in this country, it's never been each person for themselves...
Funny, but there seems to an awful lot of "America this" and "America that" for a commencement speech. Most graduation speeches are about the students' accomplishments, not the country's. Or, as in Michelle's own past speeches, they're about the struggle toward success or building yourself up, or about the special merits of the school that educated them.
Yet Michelle's last three graduation speeches have been different from her previous 20, and not just because they're anti-Donald.
In her April speech at Jackson State University, she urged graduates to register to vote, chastising them for a 2014 midterm turnout of African-American youth of only 20 percent. At the Santa Fe Indian School, she brought some listeners to tears as she chronicled her family's uniquely American genealogy, beginning with her great-great grandfather as a slave and culminating with her own Princeton and Harvard graduations.
Finally, last week at CCNY, while media observers almost unanimously called the speech aspirational and epic, and concentrated on the Trump swipes, they seemed to miss the point of why Michelle was there in the first place. She said she chose CCNY specifically for its diversity and history of inclusion, a notable tell for anyone looking to engage with Democrat voters.
"And, graduates, I really want you all to know that there is a reason why, of all of the colleges and universities in this country, I chose this particular school in this particular city for this special moment... You represent just about every possible background -- every color and culture, every faith and walk of life... And that is why I wanted to be here today... Because I know that there is no better way to celebrate this great country than being here with you."
If that doesn't sound like a classic Democrat stump speech, there's probably a nice little wall on Craigslist I can sell you.