“When they go low, we go high”

“When they go low, we go high”

Nancy Heath explains why she wants to vote for Michelle Obama in this year’s US Election.


The 2016 Election cycle is a minefield of lesser evils and new lows. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (also, former Senator and first lady) has gone head-to-head in debates twice now with Donald Trump (no Senator or Secretary there, not even a Congressman, or Councilman. If you’re wondering how he got there without them, so are we). The United States of America rightly brags about its freedoms, but this year – and in the previous two years (Presidential elections are a long-haul flight) – it has exercised the freedom to supremely mess up and clog its own politics with more low blows, negative campaigns, ad hominem personal attacks, and abuse than most people would have dreamed possible.

And then this Thursday happened.

Now, Thursday 13th October may not initially look like a turning point in the US election if you follow the twenty-four hour news cycle, but there was a moment that brought us to the edge of our seats and reminded us what this election is not. We realised that “enough is enough”.

At a Clinton-Kaine campaign stop in New Hampshire, first lady Michelle Obama stood on stage and told the truth about Trump. It was not the longest or most eloquent speech of the campaign, but it held more verity and genuine emotion than we’ve heard on stage all year. As Michelle Obama stood and told us what US politics should not be about, and what things should not be involved in an election cycle, we realised what an election could be.

A Presidential election could be a choice between two candidates with different views who genuinely believed that they could help the most people if they reached the White House. In response to Michelle Obama’s speech, I looked to the election cycle and couldn’t wait for a different election year, less clogged up with disgraceful and disgusting comments. Because, to quote Leo McGarry, I’m tired of it. “Year after year after year after year having to choose between the lesser of who cares, of trying to get myself excited about a candidate who can speak in complete sentences, of setting the bar so low, I can hardly look at it.” There’s a reason The West Wing’s views are going up on Netflix in the US right now – it must be reassuring to look to a representation of American politics that doesn’t make you want to move to Canada.

Obama shared the country’s disgust and incredulity as she said: “I can’t believe I’m saying a candidate for president of the United States has bragged about sexually assaulting women.” She said she was shaken to her core and despite wanting to move on, Mr Trump’s comments were not something she could ignore—and it was more than empty words.

One of the hardest things about this speech was its relatability – something that doesn’t often crop up in campaign speeches. Michelle Obama stood up and said “I listen to all of this and I feel it so personally.” She talked about the disrespect of the comments, the belittlement, but also the fear that a man such as this could still hold such power and influence. Obama was visibly shaken as she explained “This is not something we can just sweep under the rug as another disturbing footnote in a sad election series […] This is a powerful individual speaking freely and openly about sexually predatory behaviour and actually bragging about kissing and groping women.”

The fact that it took such disturbing comments by the Republican Presidential nominee to warrant the sort of media backlash that we have seen since the tape surfaced last weekend is highly worrying in itself. Trump’s campaign started with a promise to build a wall along the Mexican US border and a large portion of Republicans continued to cheer and vote for him in polls.

The tide is turning, and rightfully so, but this move should have happened before now. We should be allowed to expect more from our politicians: somehow, when she took the stand to make her second hugely important speech for the Clinton campaign, Obama’s speech managed to finally convey this to people. People deserve better from their politicians than the floundering, frustrating, and frightening comments that have come out of this election cycle.

Speaking later Thursday night, Clinton applauded Michelle Obama’s speech and said: “We have to keep lifting up this campaign,” referencing to the mantra which has followed the Clinton-Kaine campaign since the First Lady’s speech at the Democratic National Convention: “when they go low, we go high.”

Michelle Obama has a knack for giving good closing speeches: during Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 Presidential Campaigns his aides called her “the Closer”. After Thursday night’s speech, CNN called Michelle Obama “the starter, the reliever and the pinch-hitter” of Hillary Clinton’s campaign, relating to the huge success of her DNC speech and to her popular involvement in the campaign these last few weeks.

Everyone but Mr Trump seems to be in agreement that someone needs to keep lifting these campaigns up – and the person doing that most successfully time after time is Michelle Obama.

As soon as the National Conventions were over, whispers started over who could run in four years’ time for the both the Republicans and the Democrats: who is waiting in the wings. Seeing how influential Michelle Obama has been during the past three Presidential campaigns people are starting to seriously consider what a campaign could look like with her on the ticket. Hypothetically, this idea has been considered before, but now we need to sit up and take notice. Because I listened to Michelle Obama speak yesterday – and when she speaks, she can lift whole houses off the ground.

I’m not American. I don’t get a vote.

But if I can, I will gladly help the next Obama for America campaign—and I don’t mean Barack’s.

Nancy Heath